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MARTIN AND MURPHY EXCEL IN `BOWFINGER'.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

On the surface, it seems ersatz filmmaker Bobby Bowfinger has all the ingredients needed to make it in Hollywood. Look closer, though, and you'll find that his ponytail is a clip-on, his designer suit was stolen off the rack, and his hot new sci-fi action script, ``Chubby Rain,'' came to him by way of his Iranian part-time receptionist-accountant.

The likable new comedy, ``Bowfinger,'' is all about deception, which isn't surprising given that it was written by Steve Martin. The comic actor has made a career out of playing the charming frauds he has fashioned for himself, most notably a decade ago with the beguiling ``Roxanne.'' (He's pretty convincing, too, when working with other writers; see David Mamet's ``The Spanish Prisoner.'')

Here, Martin again enlists director Frank Oz as his partner in duplicity, and the teaming works as well as it did with ``Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'' and ``Housesitter.'' In fact, ``Bowfinger'' is even better because of the team's shared sensibility and because this time Martin has a secret weapon - an uproarious Eddie Murphy, who delivers his funniest screen performance since ``Beverly Hills Cop.''

Martin plays Bowfinger, a career hack who sees ``Chubby Rain'' as his last chance to make it in Hollywood before he turns 50. He's got the go-ahead on ``Chubby Rain,'' but with one huge proviso. Bowfinger must convince Kit Ramsey (Murphy), Hollywood's hottest action star, to top the cast. Good luck.

Undeterred by Ramsey's lack of enthusiasm, Bowfinger decides to make the movie anyway, filming the scenes with Ramsey on the sly. He calls the unrehearsed ambushes ``cinema nouveau,'' which explains why his motley group of actors never get to rehearse with Kit. Meanwhile, the egocentric and paranoid Ramsey begins to think he's losing his mind as members of Bowfinger's troupe approach him, cryptically warning of ``Chubby Rain's'' coming pod-people alien invasion.

Despite its Hollywood-insider premise, ``Bowfinger'' rarely tries for cutting-edge show-biz satire, instead concentrating its considerable energies on its characters and loopy situations. Oz wants us to believe in Bowfinger's wacky scheme and, given Martin's charm and manic enthusiasm, you almost do.

The best scenes belong to Murphy, playing the psychotic, desperately insecure movie star with a bite that has been lacking from his work for too many years. And he's almost as funny in a second role, Jiff, a sweet Ramsey look-alike enlisted by Bowfinger when he can't find the real Ramsey. Using minimal makeup and some extraordinary body language, Murphy creates an indelible character without resorting to the flatulence humor that filled ``The Nutty Professor'' and ``Dr. Dolittle.''

Filling out Bowfinger's ragged team are Daisy (Heather Graham), a farm-fresh ingenue who's game for sleeping her way to the top, and Carol (Christine Baranski), a melodramatic Method actress thrilled to ``work'' with a star of Ramsey's magnitude. Terrence Stamp is also on hand as the leader of Mind Head, a Scientology-like sect Ramsey turns to for comfort. (Happy Premise No. 1: There are no aliens. Happy Premise No. 2: There is no giant foot trying to squash you.)

It's all good fun (unless you are a Scientologist), and even if some of the goofiness falls a bit flat, you can be assured that another big belly laugh is just around the corner. Best of all: You don't need to be 12 to appreciate the humor. For that alone, we're willing to give ``Bowfinger'' a summertime Oscar.

THE FACTS

The film: ``Bowfinger'' (PG-13; sex-related material and language).

The stars: Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham and Christine Baranski.

Behind the scenes: Directed by Frank Oz. Screenplay by Steve Martin. Released by Universal Pictures.

Running time: One hour, 34 minutes.

Playing: Citywide.

Our rating: Three stars.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Steve Martin, right, tries to film a sci-fi action movie with a star who doesn't know he's in the picture in ``Bowfinger.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Aug 13, 1999
Words:639
Previous Article:THE BUZZ.
Next Article:TALK ABOUT DUMB AS A `ROCK'.
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