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Friday, 5 January 2018

Retro Review: Bowfinger (1999)

Cast: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Terence Stamp, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Kennedy 
Genre: Satirical Comedy
Worldwide Lifetime Gross: over $98 million

Plot: When a desperate movie producer fails to get a major star for his bargain basement film, he decides to shoot the film secretly around him 

'Take A Bow, Bowfinger'

Bowfinger is a send-up of people who have a story to tell and was written by Steve Martin himself. When a small-time director, Bobby Bowfinger asks Hollywood's hottest agent to give him a chance to shoot a movie titled ''Chubby Rain'' on a shoestring, he receives a seal of approval, providing Bobby lands star man, Kit Ramsey as the lead. But when Kit disapproves of the idea and turns down the offer, Bobby turns his attention to his brother, Jiff, who is nowhere near as tough and macho as his older relative. 

Eddie Murphy plays a spoof of himself, evidently enough; his at times manic outbursts as Kit Ramsey, as well as his nerdy-yet clueless twin brother, Jiff (he plays both roles and without prosthetics), invoked memories of '80s, Eddie Murphy, that we all knew and loved, ever since his stand-up days, Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places. Kit is the embodiment of all sorts of '80s Eddie Murphy: loud, brash, foul-mouthed, as well as being so self-absorbed. That and it was good to see him having a sense of humour and playing around with it. Jiff is also a member of a cult 'Mind Head', which was an obvious poke at Scientology, despite Steve Martin's objections to this claim. 

For 98 mins, we see Bobby's attempts at making a motion picture movie by thinking and concocting all kinds of ridiculous stunts and charades; basically conning Kit Ramsey, capturing his every move and word he speaks on camera, via hidden camera, in his determination to make the movie he wants to produce. As sneaky as he is most of the time, Bobby Bowfinger is also a resourceful and smart guy, who knows his way around the Hollywood movie system and in getting things done on a shoestring, without breaking the bank. He never runs out of ideas, whilst remaining understated as a character when he is not filming his movie. Sure enough as a filmmaker, he goes out of his way but other than that, he is a regular Joe. 

Sadly, the film didn't fare so well in Britain when it was released in cinemas. Not all of Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy's movies have been much to write home about: Steve Martin's offerings in the 1990s have been extremely disappointing in comparison to other comedian turned actors, who have had relatively more success during this decade with their efforts. Whereas chronologically, Eddie Murphy had a hit in 1996's remake of The Nutty Professor. & yet, this collaboration is the funniest in terms of individual Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy movies as a whole. This film is a return to form for both of these comedic actors in this satirical offering it is hard for me to say who was better & got the upper hand, as they were both great & funny in their own ways; not even Bringing down the House, The Adventures of Pluto Nash or Dr Doolittle from their latter years can topple Bowfinger

The film is silly at times, but it is so silly that it makes you laugh and put a smile on your face. It is also witty and quirky in places as well. Bowfinger is the comedy movie that pokes fun at the Hollywood movie industry, without becoming a parody. The actual premise, supported by some laugh out loud moments, and the manner of which it is conveyed works to the extent that this is one of the few examples of a comedy that doesn't try to be something that it isn't. 

Combining satire with broad humour, Bowfinger takes stabs at characters, mocking them with each and every absurd -yet comical situation thrown at them, but it is not done in a narcissistic or mean-spirited way; rather it makes you invest interest in each of them. As well as Kit, Bobby Bowfinger and Jiff, you have a Black guy, the attractive guy, the pretty girl and the older woman as the bad actress. Christine Baranski had a relatively moderate role in The Birdcage, but here she steals every scene she is in by hamming it up as the at times overly serious - yet bad actress. Especially during the car park and restaurant scenes alone, that is worth a watch as well. 

The tone of the film itself is very unlike Eddie Murphy's and Steve Martin's previous offerings. The movie is almost like a thinly- veiled attack on the Hollywood system itself without being malicious, that within the story everyone is using everyone else for their own intent, & all for the sake of making a quick buck. Cheap, low- grade productions with titles such as Chubby Rain and Fake Purse Ninjas, terrible acting, budget special effects, unlicensed use of spots as film locations: these are the makings of your standard Z-list movies. The critics were apparently turned off by the somewhat subtle -yet biting satire and dark side of this film, but this idea alone sets off a chain of amusing and comical set-pieces. 

The comedy is in little bite-sized segments that gradually builds up as the movie advances, rather than going all out and have one massive funny scene in the first half. This mainly arises from the reactions of the characters to situations that play out or comments or to a piece of dialogue. The set-pieces themselves are arguably funnier than some of the so-called funny scenes in most of Steve Martin's and Eddie Murphy's '90s and post 2000s comedy offerings. I've never been a staunch admirer of Steve Martin's brand of humour, but here, he was on point with every single sight gag, slapstick and comedy setpiece unleashed that he made me chuckle, smile and laugh with Bowfinger. I'd wished he had been as funny as this during the 1980s and most of the 1990s with his offerings. The motorway/freeway scene, the dog wearing stilettos, the sex scene involving Heather Graham's character to name but a few garner a chuckle or two. 

As a satirical comedy, it succeeds; in terms of the broad physical comedy aspects, that too succeeds as it exposes the failings of the movie-making business, where high ambitions and expectations come at the cost of smaller financial budgets and casual laughs. It's not a dark or black comedy, but it takes some elements of it and makes it more light-hearted and accessible for mainstream audiences to understand. 

That is why I don't understand how Bowfinger flopped at the box office. 

Because not only is it a sleeper hit, it truly is a whimsical delight in film-making, & at the expense of filmmaking and filmmakers. 

Final Verdict

By far Steve Martin's best film from the 1990s but unfortunately, it also represents an end of an era and that his and Eddie Murphy's best efforts that will never be surpassed in years to come. Bowfinger is the high-point and milestone of their illustrious careers. The wacky premise makes for a great idea for a comedy, and yet it is the comedy itself, through the slapstick, the situations where Bobby does things on a budget in this movie that really works to the extent that it is highly amusing and funny.  

Bowfinger is underrated as a comedy - and the likes of which we will never ever see again.


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