"Bowfinger" gives us two terrific Eddie Murphy's for the price of one. 

Murphy's L.A. Law

Don't go to see "Bowfinger" looking for a fresh take on the business of moviemaking. Go to catch Eddie Murphy playing two fresh roles. This is his best work since starring in the remake of "The Nutty Professor." While the movie as a whole is not terribly original, Murphy's dual roles as an action-adventure star and a young man who wants to be a professional gofer, more than make up for this satire's many misses.

"Bowfinger" also shows off co-star Steve Martin's talents as a writer — he penned the script which takes on an impressive number of movie industry sacred cows and insider secrets. Martin targets everything from studio racism to The Church of Scientology to an implicit dig at ex-girlfriend Anne Heche. Ouch!

Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, an aging film producer who runs his film company from the living room of his L.A. shack. He's so sleazy, he even charges actors to attend his casting calls. Desperate to be one of the movers and shakers, he seizes on a sci-fi script penned by Afram (Adam Alexi-Malle), his Iranian accountant/receptionist. Bowfinger sees the movie as his ticket to one day being important enough to have the FedEx truck stop at his door.

Underscoring the central theme of Hollywood being all artifice, Martin's "Bowfinger" is a master at appearing to be what he wants to be. At least at the talking stage. Making the most of a borrowed car, clothes and a cell phone, he manipulates a "casual" encounter with a powerful studio executive (Robert Downey Jr.), who agrees to get behind Bowfinger's film if he can deliver action superstar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) as the lead. No problem says Bowfinger. As we soon learn, Ramsey happens to be desperate himself. He wants an action script that gives him memorable tag lines and Bowfinger's script about aliens invading the Earth in oversized raindrops has just such a final line. Only problem is, Ramsey is a nut case who's surrounded by hangers-on who feed him conspiracy theories about white Hollywood and alien invasions. The most calculating of his posse is a self-help guru (Terence Stamp) who runs the Mind Head Institute.

When Ramsey literally kicks Bowfinger out, the cagey producer devises a way to have Ramsey star in his movie without knowing it. Using his stable of also-ran actors, which includes a stage-trained Christine Baranski (she's hilarious) and a just-off-the-bus-from-Ohio blonde ingenue played by Heather Graham (she's forgettable, though her character isn't), Bowfinger begins shooting.

But all of Bowfinger's clandestine manipulations and manufactured scenes drive poor Ramsey over the edge. He vanishes. Bowfinger, like any good producer, decides he'll continue shooting the movie with a body double. Enter Eddie Murphy No. 2. As Jiff, a dorky delivery boy with an uncanny resemblance to Ramsey, Murphy gets to be sweet and charming.

Murphy shines playing against type, and Martin gets to show that deep down he's really just a softy. Never once does he seem to know he's making a worthless film; nor do his actors. And when a little blackmail leads to his movie actually being premiered, they all sit transfixed.

Although "Bowfinger" never quite pulls off its mixture of low farce and sharp satire, it does have more than few side-splitting set pieces. The best include the scenes where poor Jiff is forced to run across a freeway, and when Bowfinger and company set out to terrify Ramsey in a parking garage.

But more importantly, "Bowfinger" gives us two terrific Eddie Murphys for the price of one. And that's a bargain.


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