Review for Bowfinger
Thinking back a few years, when I first boarded the HD train, with a new TV and Blu-ray player, I laughingly started off with the intention to be as frugal as possible when it came to Blu-rays, upgrading my choice favourite DVDs to high definition, and those DVDs with transfers so poor that scaling them up only brought out the worst in them, thinking that all the other DVDs would be good enough to watch. That intention has long since been left behind, but around the top of the list of the poorly encoded DVD releases was Bowfinger, a film that looked fair on a small CRT screen, but on an HD panel looked downright awful. They took their sweet time in releasing it on Blu-ray, and it fell to boutique UK label Fabulous Films to do the honours. In fact, they had the world-wide exclusive for a few months, before Universal in the US finally caught up. I’m even later in catching up, but the benefit is that I probably paid the same for the Blu-ray as I did for the DVD 15 years previously.
Bobby Bowfinger is a down and out director in Hollywood, inching relentlessly towards fifty, and the point where he can kiss his stalled career goodbye. That’s when accountant and aspiring screenwriter Afrim delivers a script that knocks his socks off. Chubby Rain is the name of the opus, and it’s Bowfinger’s last chance to make it big. Money is a slight problem though; he doesn’t have any. Scamming his way into a meeting with big Hollywood producer Jerry Renfro, he secures provisional backing for his movie, if he can get megabucks action star Kit Ramsey to star, a slight problem on an ultra low-budget movie with no name actors and aspiring wannabes. Con artist Bowfinger’s solution is simple; shoot the film without telling Ramsey he’s in it. For a notorious paranoid like Ramsey, it isn’t advisable for strangers to come up to him and start talking about an alien invasion, and when Ramsey disappears into the bosom and safety of his Mindhead meetings, it seems that Bowfinger’s movie is over before it even had a chance. Fortunately they find a double in the gentle-hearted and slow-witted look-alike Jiff. Can Bowfinger con his way into a hit movie?
Bowfinger gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. It’s not a great one. Despite the fact that this film didn’t see a Blu-ray release until 2016, it still boasts a transfer from the bad old days of Universal back catalogue treatment. The image is clear throughout, with the colour balance shifted more towards yellows, but still vibrant and well defined. The HD transfer does seem to come from the same source as the DVDs, certainly when it comes to print damage and signs of age. The film has gone through the usual Universal treatment though, hefty DNR, grain removal, an overall softness resulting in detail levels lower than you’d want from a Blu-ray. There’s also some blooming in the whites and black crush, so all in all, not the best HD transfer. But then if you compare it to the DVD release, it is so, so much better!
You have a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround track, but there are no subtitles. If you need those, it might be better to import the US Universal release, which apparently is Region B compatible. The audio is fine though, the surround put to effective use in a mostly front focussed comedy (high heels in a car park worth mentioning here), the dialogue is clear and the film’s music comes across well.
You get the disc in a BD Amaray case, and it boots to an animated menu.
The extras are all ported from the DVD, indeed in this case ported from the UK DVD as all of the video extras are in 576i PAL format.
You get the audio commentary from director Frank Oz, the Spotlight on Location featurette (23:26), the Deleted Scenes (5:21), the Outtakes (2:50), and the Theatrical Trailer (1:02).
There aren’t many comedies that eschew the tried and trusted route of the gross out and toilet humour that appeals to the common denominators among US audiences. Films with wit, satire and intelligence are harder and harder to find amongst the cinematic chaff that passes for funny these days. Bowfinger is that elusive gem of a comedy, and rates among my favourites from recent years. It’s a gentle satire on the cutthroat film industry in Hollywood, populated with carefully observed characters, yet manages to be relentlessly funny, layered with comedy goodness.
Steve Martin penned a wonderfully wry script, and plays the part of Bobby Bowfinger in the film. A man who scams his way into making a movie, he’s a venal, irredeemable con artist, yet Martin makes him sympathetic and easy to root for as he aims to complete his masterpiece. The star of the film has to be Eddie Murphy, who gives two excellent performances. As Kit Ramsey, he is the materialistic epitome of the Hollywood star, paranoid to the point of neurosis and surrounded by an entourage of yes men. His own foibles send him to Terence Stamp’s Mindhead organisation, a catch all for the sort of cult or pseudo-religion that celebrities with an excess of wealth seem to flock to these days, in an attempt to buy spirituality in a town where only the greenback is worthy of worship. It’s the kind of loud-mouthed brash character that people familiar with Murphy’s early career will quickly recognise. It’s Murphy’s performance as Jiff that is revelatory. Jiff is a gentle-hearted, somewhat slow-witted man, who gets a part in Chubby Rain as a Kit Ramsey look-alike, as well as an errand boy. The endearing thing is that he’s more excited about the step up the career ladder running errands. He’s perhaps the more human side of Hollywood, the exploited rather than the exploiter, although ultimately not even he is resistant to the materialistic charms of the film business.
Bowfinger is filled with inventive gags, both verbal and visual. I love the way that Bowfinger hires his film crew from the Mexican border, and it’s fun watching the evolution of these characters through the film. Similarly Heather Graham’s character Daisy arrives innocent and rosy-cheeked from the country, eager to be a star, and watching her evolve through the film is also hilarious, as she adapts the casting couch to suit her own ambitions. Also a star in the film is Bowfinger’s dog Betsy, boasting an ability to walk in high heels when required, or lie prone on command, legs akimbo.
Bowfinger is a witty observation of the film industry that never strays into vindictiveness, concentrating on its main goal of making people laugh. In that it succeeds admirably, keeping the laughs flowing from beginning to end, and building up to climax that proves satisfying and hilarious. It’ll have you looking for that old Carl Douglas CD and that can’t be a bad thing. This Blu-ray doesn’t present the film as it should, victim of Universal’s grain-scrubbing treatment of its back catalogue, but it’s such an improvement on the DVD that a double dip is essential rather than optional. The last great Steve Martin comedy is also the last great Eddie Murphy film.