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Bowfinger (1999)

For a long time, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy have had so much else on their minds that we've had to take it on trust that they were funny. This swift, sharp, semi-clever team-up vehicle, scripted by Martin and directed by Frank Oz, makes no attempt to stretch for profundity or appeal to the MoR family audience both comics have been wooing and instead lets them loose with funny characters, crazy situations, a little cruelty and the barest smidgen of pathos.

Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) is a contemporary Ed Wood, a 49-year-old Hollywood wannabe who has somehow assembled a loyal crew of fellow misfits and has discovered his soon-to-be masterpiece in Chubby Rain, a sci-fi flick (catchphrase: 'gotcha suckaz!') written by his accountant. A contrived restaurant encounter with smug studio player Robert Downey Jr convinces him he's got a chance to sell the movie if he delivers Kit Ramsey (Murphy), 'the biggest action star in the world' (sort of a Wesley Snipes parody). When Ramsey turns him down and tosses him out of a limo, Bowfinger resolves to make the movie anyway by shooting Kit without his knowledge and unleashing his supporting cast of kooks on him. Kit, however, is a paranoid neurotic in therapy with guru-conman Terence Stamp, and the shooting of the film convinces him that aliens are out to get him.

Also mixed up in the mess are a starlet from Ohio (Heather Graham) whose naked ambition shows as she blatantly sleeps with anyone who will further her career and a goofy stand-in/gopher Jiff (also Murphy) who turns out to be the star's twin brother and winds up doing some of the more dangerous work (the film's funniest scene has Jiff being persuaded to run across an eight-lane expressway when Bowfinger tells him all the drivers are experienced stuntmen). The Wood parallel becomes most obvious when we see the premiere of Chubby Rain, which has many Plan 9 tics: especially the wooden cop recruited as an actor to prevent him busting Bowfinger for shooting without a permit. Finally, Bowfinger and Jiff are hired to make a Taiwanese action movie Fake Purse Ninjas.

Martin does funny/desperate wonderfully, faking a mobile phone call in a restaurant, manipulating his no-hope hangers-on, enthusing over his patently dreadful project - and Murphy is perhaps better than he's ever been, freed by the dual role of the self-love that marred his 80s work, and playing the grotesque to the hilt as the mixed-up action star (he believes the Kennedys are compelling him to expose himself to the Laker Girls) and his sweet but gauche brother ('runnin errands would be a big boost for me!') It's broader than The Player or Swimming With Sharks, taking a few accessible pot-shots at the industry without choking on in-jokes.

First published in this form here.

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