REVIEW: At the Multiplex, Passe "Bowfinger" and Flaccid "Dick"
by Danny Lorber
Like his humorous essays for The New Yorker, Steve Martin’s script for “Bowfinger,” which was directed by Frank Oz (“In & Out“), is certainly funny. But his story’s premise – a delusional, no-budget filmmaker (Martin) shooting a movie starring the world’s most famous action hero (Murphy) without the star’s knowledge – is shaky and the execution spotty.
Yet another Hollywood satire, but not as cool or as smart as “The Player” (1992) or “Get Shorty” (1995), “Bowfinger” skewers Scientology (here depicted as a high-tech cult called Mindhead), Los Angeles’ pathologically status-conscious inhabitants and promiscuous starlets.
In the title role, Martin recycles a variation of the lovably clueless hero he played in one of his earliest hits, “The Jerk” (1979). Bobby Bowfinger is a type, a loser with a dream scamming his way through the making of a film called “Chubby Rain.” An idiotic melange of horror and science fiction tropes, “Chubby Rain” appears to be a parody of early Roger Corman movies. But at a time when the thrilling, no-budget indie “The Blair Witch Project” is raking in the money and making mega-budgeted studio films look cynical and square, Martin’s condescension seems ill-timed and out of touch.
As the insecure action-film superstar Kit Ramsey, Murphy is hilarious. A kind of Sylvester Stallone by way of Scientology advocate John Travolta, Kit is sexually fixated on the Los Angeles Lakers cheerleaders and comes complete with a worshipful entourage, Godzilla-sized ego and paranoia. His biggest complaint is that no one has written him a line like “Hasta la vista, baby.” Kit also detects racist slurs everywhere. He’s convinced the use of the letter “K” in his latest script is a code for Ku Klux Klan. Surrounded by gofers and ministered by Mindhead’s creepy head man (a marvelous Terence Stamp), Kit repeats his personal mantra, “Keep it together,” as if his life depended on it, and it does. That his name also happens to be an anagram of this phrase, is a nice touch. Kit’s other mantra involves keeping something in his pants.
When Bowfinger sends one of his film’s leading ladies (Christine Baranski) to speak lines from “Chubby Rain” to Kit, while filming them surreptitiously, Kit’s paranoia takes over, and he soon believes he’s involved in some alien plot. Murphy is so good as the movie star basket case that he disappoints slightly in his other role, a terminally clueless Starbucks employee-turned-actor named Jiff who behaves like Jerry Lewis at his nerdiest and bears a striking resemblance to Kit.
The premise of “Bowfinger” requires us to swallow the idea that everyone in the film is as delusional or desperate as its hero. “Chubby Rain” ingenue Daisy (Heather Graham) is corn-fed Iowan waif who arrives in Hollywood yearning to be a star. After being cast by Bowfinger and learning she can trade sex for more lines and close-ups, Daisy ditches the gingham dress for skintight, flesh-baring pastel outfits and beds everyone she thinks can help her career, including the film’s pudgy Iranian accountant-screenwriter (Adam Alexi-Malle). She also seduces Bowfinger himself, the supposedly innocent dreamer who falls for the dazzling beauty unaware she’s using him to further her career. Eventually, Daisy hooks up with “the most powerful lesbian in Hollywood,” which is reminiscent of what happened to Martin’s real life ex-, Anne Heche.
Outside of Murphy’s Kit, the best things in “Bowfinger” tend to be the small touches such as the cheesy “Chubby Rain” finale staged at the Griffith Observatory. When Bowfinger and his young cameraman, Dave (Jamie Kennedy of “Scream“), need a crew, they head for the border and round up a band of illegal immigrants under a hail of gunfire. Later, after the Mexicans have gotten a taste of filmmaking, they start reading “Cahiers du Cinema” and debating the virtues of “Citizen Kane.” Also notable is a lizardly studio executive (Robert Downey Jr.) Bowfinger accosts at the chic Hollywood hangout Le Dome.
Martin helped pave the way for people like Adam Sandler. But ironically his brand of humor might seem passe to fans accustomed to far dumber and raunchier yuks. Martin may be too classy to compete with such bonehead hits as “American Pie.” But he hasn’t exactly helped himself with this familiar story. “Bowfinger” is a conceptual step up from “Sgt. Bilko” and “Father of the Bride.” But like its final sendup of Hong Kong action films, it seems a little yesterday.
Watching dumb people do dumb things on celluloid is frequently more numbing than engaging — and heartless teensploitation wave riders that champion feeble-mindedness only makes matters worse. In “Dick,” Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams portray chirpy imbeciles who uncover the Watergate scandal. Once you move beyond this clever premise and the self-congratulatory chutzpah of the title, there’s little more here than pretty girls bumping into things. Nowhere near the berserk delights of the Farrelly brothers and even farther from scathing political satire, “Dick” spins in place in its own beige-bland roller derby.
There is plenty of pat cuteness — our heroines work as official White House dog walkers and unwittingly bake LSD-laced Hello Dollys — but the fizzy details can’t hide the lack of meat and bone. True, Dunst and Williams make charming polyester sweet 15s, but it seems that director Andrew Fleming and co-screenwriter Sheryl Longin know not how to expand on any of their good ideas and smart casting choices. What’s left actualizes all of the lame puns and associations the filmmakers don’t want you to make: “Dick” is flaccid, puny, and dopier than even its creators could have imagined it to be.