Nashville Scene


REVIEWED: 08-30-99

With The Nutty Professor and Doctor Doolittle, Eddie Murphy established a new paradigm for the Eddie Murphy movie. Unlike the hard-R action pictures and edgy comedies that made him famous, the new Eddie Murphy movie is family-friendly, relies heavily on computer-generated effects, and features classic stories taken from children's literature or children's movies.

But Murphy's latest movie, Bowfinger, isn't really an Eddie Murphy movie. He may have a starring role, but Bowfinger is a Steve Martin movie in the lovable tradition of L.A. Story, Martin's sweet-natured, surreal satire on California life. Even so, Murphy's talents get a chance to shine, and the tone of the film isn't all that different from his other recent ventures.

The left coast hasn't gotten any more logical since 1991, when Martin wrote himself the part of a weatherman who tapes his forecasts in advance and talks to electronic highway-advisory signs. In his return to La-La Land, he plays a would-be producer named Bowfinger who's going to make an action movie starring actor Kit Ramsey (Murphy), whether Ramsey knows it or not. Murphy plays a dual role, as Ramsey and his errand-boy double, and delivers a perfect spoof of his own stardom.

The usual Hollywood satire is bitter at its core, portraying stars, producers, and studio execs as venal (or at best, stupid) slimeballs out to stomp on artists' tender dreams--think The Player or The Big Picture. But what gives Bowfinger its surprising appeal is Martin's conviction that the system is full of naive, trusting people who just want to make magic up there on the screen. Bowfinger, his accountant-slash-screenwriter, his corn-fed female lead, and his crew of Mexican illegals dream of entertaining the world with their tale of waterborne aliens, Chubby Rain. Even Ramsey, a million-megawatt action star with all the trimmings, doesn't come across as a money-loving jerk. As his counselors at Mind Head (a Scientology-like group) remind him, he's only trying to "keep it together" in the face of paranoia and delusion. The only villain in the piece is Terence Stamp as a Mind Head leader with a celebrity meal ticket.

Bowfinger delivers some big laughs with the same kind of Mel Brooksian sight gags and set pieces that filled L.A. Story. But even when the laughter tapers off, as it often does, Martin's script is sustained by its refreshing refusal to pass judgment on these characters or their business. An actress sleeping her way to a bigger part isn't the end of the world; audiences like crappy action movies; Hollywood is crazy, but maybe it works for some people. Martin's essential optimism makes the movies he writes as sunny as the L.A. weather forecast. His costar Murphy may have needed reinvention a couple of times in his career, but thank goodness Martin is still the same.

--Donna Bowman

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