Silly and smart in equal measure, the Frank Oz showbiz comedy Bowfinger hit some really sharp notes of pointed satire, while still displaying a care-free, absurdist sense of its own willfully unbelievable plot. Released in the summer of 1999 and feeling more and more unique as the years have progressed, the film showcased Steve Martin (who also penned the witty screenplay) in pure rapscallion mode, portraying a bottom-barrel Hollywood producer looking to trick the world’s biggest action star, Kitt Ramsey (an absolutely superb Eddie Murphy), into starring in his sci-fi B-movie that he’s been shooting undercover. After the plot gets entangled in various idiocies, Ramsey disappears, which causes Bowfinger to hire a dimwitted lookalike, again played by Murphy, with serious comic hijinks ensuing. The sequence on the freeway is an all-timer; I can’t believe that the studio asked Martin to cut it out of the script as it’s the funniest sequence in the film. And it goes without saying that Murphy hasn’t been this good in years, maybe since Bowfinger, delivering two very different and equally successful comedic performances.
Coming on the heels of the more serious minded The Truman Show and the more audience friendly EDtv, this was the third meta-reality-TV-movie in this late 90’s cycle of prophetic filmmaking, and if Bowfinger didn’t go for the jugular the way Truman did or play it as enjoyably safe as EDtv, Oz and his collaborators were still able to craft their own special little gem, a movie that moves to its own beat and plays by its own rules. Featuring a fantastic supporting cast featuring Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Terrence Stamp, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Kennedy, and Adam Alexi-Malle, and including some hilarious jabs at Scientology throughout the playfully mischievous script, Bowfinger feels like very few other studio comedies that I can think of, as it deftly juggled multiple tones in an effort to create something purposefully different. Warmly embraced by critics, the film did $60 million domestic and just about $100 worldwide, which seems about right, as the ingredients were certainly more challenging than most of your typical big budget offerings from roughly 20 years ago. Originally titled Bowfinger’s Big Thing. Chubby Rain POWER.