Eddie Murphy is normally terrible in everything possible except his early stand-up but Bowfinger is like what Punch-Drunk Love is to Adam Sandler, the exception to the rule. It’s directed by Frank Oz who is an interesting director and of course a great muppeter and performer in his own right. Steve Martin wrote the screenplay and stars as the ultra low-budget director Bobby Bowfinger who gives Ed Wood a run for his money.
The script is inspired by an incident when silent film scarlet Maria Pickford was shot covertly in the ’20s so she could appear in a Russian film. Eddie Murphy plays dual roles of the big movie star Kit Ramsey and his clueless brother Jiff who Bowfinger hires without realising they are brothers as a stand in. Kit is also a member of the elusive cult “MindHead” which is an obvious pisstake of The Church of Scientology despite Martin denying the charges for obvious reasons. It’s pretty much the only mainstream film which has been willing to make fun of Scientology.
The film is certainly a high water mark of Murphy’s career because he doesn’t for the most part play the Stepin Fetchit type role he normally given. Martin really shines here probably due to the fact he wrote the screenplay himself and I’m sure a lot of the scenarios are based on his own experiences within the Hollywood system. It’s also his best work of the ’90s by some distance and possible his best work since he classic cameo in Frank Oz’s musical version of Little Shop of Horrors.
The tone is a slightly darker than the usual fare Murphy or Martin does which probably down to Oz’s sensibilities which are closer to dark comedy. The satire on Scientology is spot on and the increased paranoia Ramey has due to his “religion” and the fact this sci-fi film is shooting around him is hilarious. The film is helped enormously by a supporting cast of Heather Graham, Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Stamp is in great form as the leader of “MindHead”. It does falter during the last act but overall it’s a surprisingly grown up and daring film coming from Martin and Murphy and seems have been all but forgotten since it’s modestly successful release in 1999.
The transfer is certainly a dated master but a vast improvement on the previous DVD release which came out at the turn of the millennium. All the features from the DVD is ported over which includes a commentary with Oz, a making of along with deleted scenes, bloopers and the theatrical trailer. It’s a welcome re-release and hopefully it finds some new fans.