Given Tom Cruise's recent unstable behavior, it might be the right time to revisit 'Bowfinger,' Steve Martin and Frank Oz's highly under-appreciated satire of the side of Hollywood we mere mortals aren't supposed to see. In Hollywood, there are no secrets--everyone knows who's secretly gay or insane, and who's slept with who, when, where, and what they got out of it. But no one wants powerful enemies, and in the quickly shifting landscape of stardom, where one can transform almost overnight and with no apparent or predictable logic from b-list character actor or teen idol into a-list mega-star and Oscar-caliber actor who can open hundred-million dollar movies and make or break the careers of his/her friends and acquaintances, no one wants to be the one who spills the scandalous beans. For this reason, 'Bowfinger'--the 'Spinal Tap' of contemporary Hollywood--was barely made, and upon its release was greeted with a politely, barely restrained gasp of horror from everyone on the inside who recognized Martin's unusually liberal borrowings from the gossip files to construct this smart, dry, tastefully executed comedy about a has-been-before-he-ever-was actor/director who concocts a scheme to sell his hopelessly bad sci-fi action film project to a major studio by surreptitiously following and filming a major action film star, manipulating his behavior when able, and then later patching a film together with the clandestine footage and a few shots with a body-double. Little does Bowfinger (the loser, played with typical charm and intelligence by the great Steve Martin) know that the film star he means to exploit--Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy)--is a paranoid, delusional basket case of psychological problems barely being held together (though, one suspects, also being held at the edge of sanity) by his mentors at MindHead, a bizarre, cultish, mind-controlling religion obviously meant to stand in for the Church of Scientology, the increasingly infamous faith/life method of numerous Hollywood stars, most notoriously Tom Cruise and John Travolta (musician Beck has allegedly also recently joined the ranks of Scientology, at the behest of his father and his girlfriend, the sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi, also a Scientologist). Bowfinger assembles a motley crew of Hollywood wannabes, which include the fabulous Christine Baranski as Carol, an aging stage actress who drives around town listening to old recordings of herself singing show tunes; Heather Graham as Daisy, a presumably naive young beauty who steps off the bus in L.A. and immediately sets about trying to sleep her way to the top (Daisy is based on nutso actress Anne Heche, who exploited Martin before moving up the food chain to a public lesbian affair with Ellen Degeneres, whose sit-com was then at peak popularity); Adam Alexi-Malle as Afrim, Bowfinger's corpulent Pakistani accountant and the author of 'Chubby Rain,' the ludicrous alien invasion script which Bowfinger believes will catapult him to fame and respectability; Jamie Kennedy as Bowfinger's camera operator, who smuggles equipment out of the studio lot where he works as a low-level crew man; and Kohl Sudduth as Bowfinger's sweet but vapid excuse for a heart-throb. This gang of misfits works well together in various gags lampooning the film industry. But the film is stolen entirely by Eddie Murphy, first as Kit Ramsey, whose paranoid rants include the observation that a script his agent has offered him must be racist because the letter 'k' appears in it a number of times divisible by three ('KKK' appears in this script 111 times!) and the twisting of a remark made by the agent about a script--'it's not Shakespeare'--into a racist slur ('Shakespeare?!? Shake-a-Spear! You callin' me a spear-chucker!?!), and later as Jiff, Kit's nerdy and socially inept twin brother, who unwittingly stumbles into Bowfinger's scheme and agrees both to serve as a stunt/body double and errand boy for the film ('Running errands would be a real boost for me!' he gleefully remarks). One of the great things about 'Bowfinger' is the opportunity to see Eddie Murphy create two ridiculous characters the way he once did so frequently on Saturday Night Live, before 'Bevery Hills Cop' send his ego to Mars. He looks like he's having the time of his life, and the fabulous talent he has wasted so frequently on mediocre to painfully bad star vehicles like 'Coming to America,' 'Harlem Nights,' or 'Vampire in Brooklyn' is once again apparent, and triumphant. Together, Martin and Murphy remind us how comedy should be made: with intelligence, humility, generosity--and, most importantly, scathing wit. Scientology gets fairly merciless treatment in the form of MindHead, a cult-like corporate religion led by Terry Stricter (Terence Stamp), who soothes the paranoiac Kit with new-agey acronym lessons (K.I.T=Keep It Together) and chastens him not to 'show it to the Laker Girls' when he hears the voice of Teddy Kennedy instructing him to 'bring the Laker Girls down a peg or two.' Given Tom Cruise's recent weirdness and the fact that he openly travels with a cadre of Scientologists who function like a Secret Service detail, it's not hard to suspect that Kit Ramsey was written with Tom Cruise in mind (the role was originally written for Keanu Reeves but was ultimately changed and offered to Murphy). Murphy's presence, ironically, may have undermined this film in its initial release, as audiences many audiences left theaters disappointed, having expected more of a traditional slapstick comedy with Murphy in a larger role (his scenes are easily the funniest, but Kit and Jiff or secondary characters). But it's well worth revisiting for its quality and its scathing critique of the business of Hollywood.
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.
September 26, 2020