Two words for Steve Martin: Write more. Roxanne was his script; The Out-of-Towners was not. I rest my case. Bowfinger, deftly directed by Frank Oz (In and Out) from an original screenplay by Martin, is inspired funny business that allows Martin to hilariously torpedo Hollywood’s corrupt heart. Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, a low-rent filmmaker who is desperate enough to believe that Chubby Rain, a script about aliens who hide in raindrops, will be his jackpot. He’s optioned the film from his Iranian accountant, Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle).
Bowfinger needs a star like Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) to sell the project to studio exec Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.), but Kit won’t even see him. So Bowfinger simply films Kit without his knowledge. Hell, in action flicks, stars don’t need to act. Just showing them running and driving around will do. Think that’s far-fetched? Check out any brainless blockbuster from Van Damme, Seagal or Stallone. Bowfinger will insert the footage of Kit – shot with a hidden camera – into the movie he makes with the help of a cast and crew of fellow losers.
Martin and Murphy are a winning team, and Heather Graham spices up the fun as Daisy, just off the bus from Ohio and willing to sleep with anyone – lowly writer or power lesbian – to become a star. There’s also Christine Baranski as Carol, an aging actress eager to buy into Bowfinger’s “beautiful lie”; Kohl Sudduth as Slater, a narcissistic actor; and Jamie Kennedy as Dave, a studio gofer who borrows cameras to use on Bowfinger’s film.
Best of all is Murphy, who has his richest comic role since The Nutty Professor, playing both Kit and Jiff, the bucktoothed nerd and Kit look-alike whom Bowfinger uses as a stand-in. Murphy’s expression is priceless as Jiff reacts to Daisy exposing her breasts on the set (“You’re gonna be a star!”). Murphy also excels as Kit, a fragile ego held in thrall by Terry Stricter (Terrence Stamp), the head of a pseudoreligious cult called Mind Head – Mind Fuck, according to Bowfinger – that exploits the wealth and fame of neurotic celebrities. Martin has denied that Scientology is the target of his satire, so John Travolta and Tom Cruise needn’t be offended.
Bowfinger is too amiable to draw blood. Martin empathizes with these wanna-be’s, who trail Kit to an underground garage and scare him silly for the camera with the sound of footsteps – no matter that the sound comes from a dog in high heels. Like Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, Martin is playing a con man in love with his own con. Bowfinger is superior entertainment, and you don’t have to be a Hollywood insider to enjoy it.
It does help to know a bit about the biz to really relish The Muse, a potently funny lampoon of all things Hollywood from director Albert Brooks, who wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Monica Johnson (Mother, Lost in America.) Brooks’ dry wit is a national resource, and his role as screenwriter Steven Phillips makes a snug fit. Steven has just won a humanitarian award for his screenwriting – “That’s what they give you when you don’t win the Oscar,” he tells his wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell), and their daughters. Word is out in the biz that Steven has lost his edge. Distraught, he seeks help from his pal Jack Warrick (Jeff Bridges), a wealthy scribe who says he owes his success to his muse. And not just any muse. Sarah (Sharon Stone) is one of the nine daughters of Zeus, and Steven is in dire need of inspiration.
OK, The Muse is built on a slender, one-joke whimsy – and a tough one to buy into, at that. But Brooks wrings many a laugh out of the clash of Greek mythology with the Hollywood variety. Stone is a comic firecracker, making Sarah a canny blend of diva and divinity. She demands every perk, including the best in hotels, food and bowing and scraping. And for what? Sarah offers no direct advice, just hints at the right direction.
Inspiration certainly struck Brooks in persuading several major Hollywood directors to validate his setup by doing cameos as themselves. Rob Reiner appears at an aquarium to thank Sarah for The American [Cont. on 126] President. Martin Scorsese wants Sarah’s go-ahead for a think-thin remake of Raging Bull. And when Titanic tyrant James Cameron bangs at Sarah’s door, pleading for her counsel, he is told only, “No water this time.” Inside jokes, for sure, but ones that slyly skewer that bitch goddess, success. It’s when Sarah moves into Steven’s home and takes over his life that the muse overstays her welcome. The always provocative Brooks sees to it that The Muse onscreen is never less than good fun in the best of company.