Those of a nervous disposition best look away now. Housesitter. Mixed Nuts. Sergeant Bilko. Father Of The Bleedin' Bride. Father Of The Bleedin' Bride Part Bleedin' Two. Not to hammer an obvious point too hard here, but for a comedy genius, Steve Martin's made some cack-brained choices of late. So saying Bowfinger is Martin's best movie in years may sound like faint praise, but here's the deal. Martin scripted. And as wise Hollywood monkey says, if Martin write, cannot be shite.
Fans of the man will certainly see it as a retreading of Steve-shaped territory. Compare Bowfinger to Martin's previous script Roxanne and you'll soon click that he's used his inspired Cyrano De Bergerac rewrite as Bowfinger's template. Roxanne's ragbag cast of big-dreaming firemen are now a ragbag cast of big-dreaming actors. The well-meaning manipulative schemes of CD Bales bear an uncanny resemblance (in spirit if not in execution) to the well-meaning manipulative schemes of Bobby Bowfinger. Martin has always been an ego-free scripter, but those expecting a rehash of his celebrity asshole persona are in for a disappointment. By no means playing the born-bent Bowfinger straight, Martin's character feels more like a set-up constructor than a memorable personality in himself.
Chances are, it's Eddie Murphy's incarnations you'll remember most. And he's terrific, for once not using his roles to hog the credits. Whilehis self-effacing turn as superstar Kit Ramsey serves as a pleasingly cynical wink at LA egos, his splutteringly funny, wonky geek Jiff lifts every scene he stumbles into.
Yet for all its cast credentials and a closing kung-fu spoof that'll send you home with mouth cramp, Bowfinger still leaves a nagging sense of half-spent expectation. Fact is, every comedy needs a "moment", a defining rib-roar that gets that word-of-mouth jabbering. It's certainly why we remember There's Something About Mary for its organic hair gel than its dumbcrash dialogue. And consistently inventive though it is, Bowfinger doesn't have that killer gag.
That's not to say Bowfinger's entirely without its gut-splitters. Choice moments? In deliberately spoiler-proof shorthand: the velcroed ponytail, Melty-Face Alien Cop, Welcome To Mindhead, Welcome To Mindhead, Welcome To Mindhead, Murphy's LA freeway misery and the best dog-in-high-heels joke you're likely to see this decade. To overdo a metaphor, Frank Oz conducts Martin's symphony of carefully orchestrated set-ups breezily enough, but keeps bodging the tempo. Less flab, more pace would make a way funnier movie.
Still, given the increasingly turgid, taboo-crunching climate of attention-seeking bad taste, the intelligent and often ingenious Bowfinger comes as a breath of fresh laughing gas. If wild and crazy whimsy exists, this is it.