Damn. Yoda sure knows how to make a movie.
There's a certain amount of magic that's gotta happen when you combine Steve Martin's excellent screenwriting, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy's brilliant comic acting, and the direction of an 800 year old Jedi master (or, at least the direction of the voice of an 800 year old Jedi master -- Frank Oz). And, lemme tell you, Bowfinger delivers that magic.
Steve Martin plays Bowfinger, a penniless, broken-down, pathetic would-be movie producer/director. Through a little good intentioned deception, he manages to convince a group of would-be stars (and, perhaps, himself) that his latest find (a sci-fi script called Chubby Rain, penned by his accountant) is a "go-picture" IF he can sign the hottest action star in the world, Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). After Ramsey turns down the role, Bowfinger decides to shoot the movie anyway, filming Ramsey without his knowledge (other actors just walk up to him and say their lines while Bowfinger films on a hidden camera), complemented by shots of a Ramsey look-alike (Jif, also played by Eddie Murphy).
Martin's script is an amazingly funny poke at the movie industry, big-time actors, and Hollywood itself, including a very thinly veiled send-up of the growing popularity of Scientology among Hollywood's elite. Martin got a lot of comic mileage out of the LA lifestyle (which he seems able to love and mock at the same time) with his early 90's LA Story -- Bowfinger is equally well-written, and seems even tighter and funnier, perhaps because of it's tighter focus -- the film industry rather than all of LA. From beginning to end, the script never falters.
The acting, for the most part, is top-notch as well. Martin plays his own characters with a comic sincerity that cannot be matched. No matter how absurdly they behave, his characters are always so human -- even as you are laughing at his misfortune, you cannot help but love him just a little. Murphy is outstanding in both roles -- his ultra-paranoid, self-involved action star is perfect in every way, and his shy, unpreposessing delivery-boy-Kit-lookalike is so lovable and laughable you just wish he were in the film more. The priciples are backed by a fairly strong supporting cast -- most notably Christine Buransky, who plays a wanna-be film diva to some very funny extremes. Heather Graham was disappointing in her role as the young starlet from Ohio who sleeps her way up the ladder -- she is very funny in all of the scenes in which she's "acting" in the movie, but in all of the other scenes she is somewhat flat (which has been the case for her in every movie I've seen her in, save Boogie Nights). An interesting note here -- supposedly, Graham's character is based upon Anne Heche, who arrived in Hollywood as a young actor from Ohio and slept her way through a handful of Hollywood stars (including Steve Martin) before ending up in a girly embrace with Ellen Degeneres. This is, of course, has little to do with the quality of the film and is probably a rumor more than anything, but I found it interesting.
Direction by Frank Oz is slick and unobtrusive. He really lets the script and actors breathe which, with the quality of script and actors in this case, is the best choice any director could make. All of his cast and crew seem to have benefited from his generations of Jedi training -- you can almost feel the force flowing through Martin and Murphy at points. You can really see why he was the informal head of the Jedi counsel for so many years.
I have only one complaint about Bowfinger. It is a minor one: I really wanted to see more of Murphy's delivery-boy character, Jif. Murphy's genius really shines in this character -- he is absolutely hilarious, and at the same time so very likable. At one point in the film, after a particularly harrowing (and funny) moment as Ramsey's "stunt double," Jif hunches over on the side of a busy freeway, weeping uncontrollably. The whole movie theater collectively sighed with compassion for Jif, even while we were laughing at the scene. The script could certainly have made room for a few more scenes with this wonderful character. Jif is best described as the "anti-Jar-Jar Binks," and the movie could only have been made better by using him more.
This summer has been a great one for comedies. Austin Powers II, Drop Dead Gorgeous, American Pie and South Park were all belly-splitters for me, but Bowfinger really tops them in pure comedy and quality. It is as funny as the best of them without the problems that plague all of them. If you can see only one movie this summer, well, you are going to have a helluva time choosing. If you can see a handful of movies this summer, definitely make Bowfinger one of them.