Universal // 1999 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 19th, 2000
The con is on.
Bowfinger is an extremely funny picture; one of the best comedies I've seen in awhile. Combining some smart writing, a funny premise, and one (make that two) of the best performances from Eddie Murphy in recent history make this picture one to watch. Universal has done itself proud with a great DVD to bring this comedy to a screen very near you; assuming you're close to your living room.
This was a movie that was going to get made. Written by Steve Martin (Three Amigos, Roxanne, My Blue Heaven) and directed by Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob, Little Shop of Horrors); it meant the studios would automatically take notice. Add Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor, Coming to America, The Distinguished Gentleman) to co-star with Steve Martin and it had to be a done deal. The fact that Oz had worked with both actors before had to help as well.
From the echelons of Hollywood stars such as these, the story goes down the food chain; way down to a little frame house on the outskirts of town where Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) has a dream. He's been a frustrated would-be director for a long time, and unpaid bills and non-working actors have him one step away from never making a picture at all. But when his accountant writes a screenplay about aliens invading in raindrops (called Chubby Rain) Bowfinger is sure he has a hit. His only problem is that to get the movie distributed he needs a big action star, Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to be in it. When Kit isn't going to sign on to the picture, the premise takes hold: Bowfinger and his friends will make a movie without the star even knowing he's in it! By shooting him in his normal (decidedly abnormal) life, and getting the actors to walk up to him and say their lines, they think they can make the movie without him knowing. The hijinks and ludicrous happenings to make the film comprise the main thrust of the picture.
The story sounds pretty straightforward, and is very reminiscent of Ed Wood. What makes this film more than just its premise is the strong dialogue and performances. Steve Martin is the titular star of the picture but often makes way for Murphy's comedic genius and the rest of the cast to outshine him. The people Bowfinger surrounds himself with to make the picture are an eclectic lot. Heather Graham (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Boogie Nights) is just off the bus from Ohio and wants to become a star. Jamie Kennedy (Three Kings, Scream, Scream 2) plays a gopher on a movie studio lot and makes everything possible by "borrowing" camera equipment, vehicles, and anything else they need. Two time Tony winner Christine Baranski (TV's Cybill) plays a never-was diva whose affected and intentionally stilted performance plays off the bad film the group is making. A couple smaller roles are also well worth mentioning; Robert Downey Jr. (US Marshals, Natural Born Killers, Black and White) makes his few minutes on screen as a high powered studio exec shine and Terence Stamp (The Limey, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace) was great in his few scenes as Terry Stricter, the leader of a quasi-religious cult called Mind Head. But the best performances has to go to the two roles played by Eddie Murphy. His portrayal of Kit, the action star with a racist chip on his shoulder is made more special by the vulnerability he brings to the part. But his portrayal of Jiff, the look-alike stand in the group finds for some shots they can't get Kit for, truly sparkles. His pure, naïve innocence, and different look without benefit of heavy makeup, along with many endearing qualities and Murphy's inspired improvisation make this perhaps his best work. Certainly one of his best in recent years.
Steve Martin affectionately jabs virtually every area of Hollywood in this story, along with a few areas not film related. The Mind Head cult, that caters to celebrities is more than a little close to Scientology. The process of making the film (the film within a film) and the characters manage to take a swipe at almost every aspect of Hollywood elite without becoming mean or vulgar. Speaking of vulgar; this is a different type of film than There's Something About Mary or American Pie. Nothing wrong with those pictures, but Bowfinger doesn't depend on gross-out or vulgarity for a laugh. It's far more intelligent than that. It's not so smart, however, that it can't go over the top when it needs to. The scene where they "get the best crew they can afford" by rounding up illegal aliens crossing the border, and drive a crane truck disguised as both a tree and an ice-cream wagon are zany and hilarious. The pace is a bit slower in the beginning, and yielded only some chuckles, but the farther into the film the louder my laughs became. What threatened to be just another decent comedy entered the realm of the truly funny by the end.
Universal has done it's usual job with the disc. In other words, it's terrific. It's getting to the point where great is just typical with this studio, who has really improved and learned about the format since the beginning. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer has bold colors and a fine level of detail and clarity. The warm tones and shadow from the source lighting used throughout the picture are well represented and clear. Fleshtones are accurate but sometimes a bit warm because of the lighting, which is intentional. The source film for the transfer is absolutely clean of nicks or scratches, and there is no noticeable grain. Overall a very good and clean look to the picture.
Again Universal graces the disc with both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio tracks. I welcome this, but have to say in most movies, especially dialogue driven ones, the difference isn't enough to notice. Both tracks are well balanced and clear, with enough width to the front soundstage. Rear surrounds are only subtly and occasionally used, but are there when appropriate. Again, this isn't a film made for an aggressive and overly directional soundtrack.
For another disc that isn't labeled as a Collector's Edition, there is a very nice range of extras. Universal has really gone the extra mile in their recent releases in this department. The commentary track by director Frank Oz is both informative and interesting, with a few humorous moments besides. Only a few pauses to take in part of a scene stop him from talking, and it has little to no redundant information. A very respectable commentary track, as these go. The 23 minute feature "Spotlight On Location" that comes on every Universal disc lately was one of the better behind the scenes features I've seen. Unlike marketing fluff so often used in such features, it really got behind the camera and had interesting interviews. High marks for this one. Several deleted scenes are shown end to end in another section, with another brief outtake reel. The theatrical trailer and several bonus trailers, including ones for Hurricane, Liar, Liar, EDtv, and The Nutty Professor are all offered as well. Production notes, extensive cast and director bios and filmographies, and DVD-ROM content comprise the rest of the bonus package. I'm impressed by this package.
I have to nitpick here to have anything to say. So far as the film goes I had only one complaint. This was that Jiff, the second character played by Eddie Murphy, comes along mid-picture and it doesn't feel very believable how he got there. Sure, they were looking for a stand in for Kit, but to just up and find a real look-alike on the streets of LA, without any scene showing how he was found didn't have the same attention to detail as the rest of the film. This is a minor moment to suspend disbelief.
The transfer gets overall high marks, but is not without flaw. There was a bit of color bleeding in a few spots, and one quick scene which had noticeable artifacts lasting perhaps 5 seconds. The image was a bit soft and hazy once in awhile as well. Before anyone gets alarmed these are nitpicky things found by a critic looking for them, and only the most persnickety videophile need complain.
I really have no complaints about the sound or extras; but if I had to choose between the alternate DTS track and a second commentary track with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy I'd have chosen the latter. I'm not saying there was an either/or available here. For movie tracks without extensive music or things that go boom I don't hear much of a difference between the two tracks is all. I'm NOT complaining about the lack of a second commentary track; it's more under the category of "would have been nice."
I found the movie very funny, sometimes hilarious and heartily recommend it. The disc quality is more than enough to recommend purchase. Universal comes through with another fine disc at a decent price, and you can look forward to hearing back from me in my new job for the studio. Just kidding folks; I know this review almost sounds like I was interviewing for such a job but I'm not. I'm just impressed with how the studio has done things lately and this disc.
I look forward to further collaborations between all involved in this film. I look forward to more intelligent yet zany comedies like this one as well; there aren't enough of them. Universal is acquitted as well, and urged to continue this combination of anamorphic transfers and nice packages of extras.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track
* Behind the Scenes Feature
* Deleted Scenes
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Info
* DVD-ROM content
* Steve Martin Biography