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Steve Martin shoots and misses



"Bowfinger"

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Review by John Orr

At one point I found myself almost wanting to apologize for this film. I was thinking of saying that maybe I found it disappointing because I had expected more from Steve Martin.

But, then I thought of Meryl Streep, and how you can go to a Meryl Streep film expecting a lot, and come a way with even more. (With the exception of ''Death Becomes Her,'' which was a stinkbomb regardless of the performances.)

So, I thought, why should I apologize for ''Bowfinger''?

From Steve Martin, I was hoping for the touching charm and magic of ''L.A. Story,'' or maybe the brilliant physical comedy of ''All of Me.'' Alas, ''Bowfinger'' delivers no charm or magic, despite a lame attempt to create some, and mishandles numerous opportunities for physical comedy.

There are a number of little chuckles, but only two really funny, laugh-out-loud moments that each last about one second ... and they are both provided by Eddie Murphy.

Maybe there was too much comedic power on this film, and it imploded; besides Martin and Murphy (in their first big-screen pairing), Frank Oz was on hand, as director. He can direct comedy, we've seen him do it before (''Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,'' for instance).

Probably the film was just the victim of committee work, which has damaged many a movie before this one.

The story: Martin plays a Hollywood filmmaker who's run out of money, but who has a script (written by his accountant) that he wants to film -- he sees it as his chance to make a big hit. He has almost no money, but does have a circle of friends and acquaintances he cons into helping him.

If he can get Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to be his star, a studio will give him his deal. When he gets thrown out of Ramsey's car, he decides to use Ramsey anyway, but just not tell Ramsey about it.

Whenever Ramsey goes anywhere public, Bowfinger's team finds him, and his actors run up to Ramsey, speak their lines, and run off.

A lot of cleverness in this, and it's a way to show how films are made -- with a little clever editing, it looks like Ramsey meant to be in the movie.

Of course, Ramsey is fairly confused by all these strangers running up to him and babbling at him, waving guns and shooting each other. Since he is already fairly mentally unbalanced, all that confusing business doesn't help.

Despite the fact that Murphy makes Ramsey's major neurosis funny, it's still more pathetic than amusing.

There is a lot of insider stuff in the film, and it shows what most of Hollywood is like -- that is, run-down and pathetic -- as opposed to the rich and slick areas successful filmmakers inhabit.

This film, which reeks of chances to be funny, just keeps missing them. Even the sight of a camera truck camouflaged with trees and bushes but racing down a concrete freeway fails to elicit more than a polite smile.

How can such a Keystone Kops kinda moment fail to work?

Part of the problem is that Bowfinger is so unappealing. We are never given a reason to think well of him. He is clever and resourceful, but lies to everyone and uses everyone who cares about him. What's funny about that?

And Heather Graham is somehow unappealing in this, which I previously thought wasn't possible.

A few fine moments come from Christine Baranski, as a longtime Hollywood actress, who, like the rest of the cast, deserved better.

Robert Downey Jr. is on hand. He doesn't have much to do but does it well. Such a shame about him. He is such a great talent, and it is so sad he can't keep himself away from drugs and out of jail and rehab centers. I hope he cleans up.



In the theater or on video?
Forget shelling out big bucks for a theater viewing. Wait till it hits the cheap rental shelves.
DVD at Amazon.
VHS at Amazon.

See cast, credit and other details about "Bowfinger" at Internet Movie Data Base.