Well, Moriarty continues his quest to see ALL of the summer films before we do (that evil SOB) and he's been doing a hell of a job... Wouldn't you say? Here, he's looking at the Frank Oz directed film, BOFINGER... which has has an interesting history here on the site. Going all the way back to Quint's review... Ages ago... through the test screening process which began not sounding that good, but then slowly but surely began curving on up to Moriarty's review here. I love films like this because they show the process when it works, and that is always a positive... ya know? Well, without further ado, I turn you on over to the dear Professor...
Hey, Head Geek...
I was just sitting in the heart of the Moriarty Labs in front of my giant information board in which I monitor 200 plus international TV channels, a wide variety of radio bands, and my own private network of video cameras around the world. Of course, there's an Internet screen that's part of the setup, and I happened to be looking at the VARIETY headlines from this week when I noticed that Universal moved BOFINGER.
My first reaction was, "What, are they crazy? It's such a strong movie. Great comic chemistry, smart scripting... what are they doing?" Then I read further into the article and I realized they were trying to find a weekend where BOFINGER wasn't going to get beaten to death. Originally they were set to open the film only a week before another strong Universal comedy, MYSTERY MEN. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and they've now got it opening on August 27 opposite STIGMATA and THE ASTRONAUT'S WIFE.
I think Universal can start breathing easy now. They've got a winner on their hands. I originally read the script BOFINGER'S BIG THING last year, and I was underwhelmed. I thought it was jokey, dull, and one-note. I also didn't believe it for a second. When I heard the casting of Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin, I was curious what sort of sparks they might generate together, but I couldn't picture Eddie in the film at all. Since Steve wrote it, his character was in his voice perfectly, but I just couldn't picture Murphy delivering these lines, playing this character.
Boy, was I wrong. Even though LIFE was far from being a perfect film, it had some moments that hinted at a mature Murphy just waiting to show off some chops. There was an energy to his work in that film that hasn't been there for years. I thought we might be on the verge of seeing a renewed Eddie, someone who's back in touch with their gift. BOFINGER delivers on that possibility in a big way. Kit Ramsey, one of two characters Eddie plays, is everything we're afraid movie stars might be. He's insecure to the point of paralysis, desperate for any sort of affirmation, and constantly surrounded by his entourage that indulges his worst instincts. There was a point back during the HARLEM NIGHTS - BOOMERANG - VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN where I suspected Eddie had given up and become this cartoon, this indulgent pratt. I mean, look at him in ANOTHER 48 HRS. He's Fat Elvis. Eddie's head weighs more than the entire 19 year old kid we all first fell in love with on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. His timing was gone. He was as Vegas as a celebrity can be. And now... just like that... he's proven that none of those years matter. When Eddie Murphy puts his mind to it, he is still one of the most facile comic minds in film today, and there is a new confidence and maturity to the way he commands a screen that is fascinating. Besides, no one who can play this character with this savage a wit could have ever fully believed their own hype. Murphy's in on the joke here, and he plays the hell out of it.
He also plays another character in the film, and I'm surprised that so much of the advertising seems to focus on this other character. Not that I didn't enjoy the work. I did. In fact, it's this other character that the audience will love. Kit Ramsey is a freak. Jett Ramsey, who just happens to be Kit's brother, is warm, approachable, and will instantly be embraced as one of Murphy's most beloved comic creations. This brother is decent the same way Paul Metzler is in the current ELECTION -- there's a unfocused purity of spirit to the characters, a simple decency that makes them wide open, that draws an audience in. Murphy's work in the film is so good as both characters that you will stop thinking about them being the same actor. The characters are convincing and real, and when we finally see them together, we accept them as brothers, as real and seperate people. That's the mark of great work.
Steve Martin... ah, what can I say about Steve Martin?
I have grown up in awe of the comic mind of this man. His stand-up comedy albums from the '70s are still among the finest of the genre (anyone who doesn't know what "Mambo rhino dogface in the banana patch" means is missing out on some of life's sweetest pleasures), his early films with Carl Reiner are nothing short of comic bliss (THE JERK, DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, ALL OF ME -- not a weak spot among them), and his work as a writer (CRUEL SHOES, PURE DRIVEL, ROXANNE, LA STORY, PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE) is piercing, perceptive, and surreal. Sure, he makes a lot of crap. I would never dare defend the likes of FATHER OF THE BRIDE II or THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS. Still, when it comes to solid, smart laughter, he's always been a standard for me. That's why I was so relieved when Steve was simply hilarious from start to finish in this film. It's a performance of sublime silliness, all bullshit artist bravado mixed with human frailty, and it will come as a delight to anyone who appreciates the art of what Martin does best. Just the other day, at a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER viewing party gone bust (DAMN YOU, WB!!!!), our host threw on Martin's classic short film THE ABSENT-MINDED WAITER. Martin hasn't lost one bit of the comic edge he had in that film, and seeing it made me realize just how special that is. Very few of our prized film clowns stay this funny for this long. On those occasions Martin gets it right, I think the public should be greedy for it, bask in it.
I could go on about the skilled contributions of Frank Oz as director, who manages to make an impossible concept somehow seem believable. I could rant and rave about how my future wife Heather Graham gives another canny comic performance here that, combined with her sexy and playful work in AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, should catapult her to the top of any casting list in town. I could say that there's very able work by every member of the film's large ensemble, including Jamie Kennedy, Christine Baranski, and Terrence Stamp. What?!?! Zod is funny?!?! Well, as the head of a pseudo-cultish religion called MindHead, yes... General Zod is actually funny.
I'm not going to do any of that, though. Instead, I'm just going to conclude my piece by saying that comedy fans should be in heaven by August 27 when this film finally hits screens. There is a lot of great laughter headed to theater screens between now and then. BIG DADDY, AUSTIN POWERS, AMERICAN PIE, MYSTERY MEN, and this film all deliver on their premises, then actually go above and beyond. Every one of the films features gifted performers working at their peak, and every one offers memorable sights and lines. I have enjoyed my first half of the year seeing all these films so I could share my impressions with you, AICN readers. Now you get to start enjoying the films themselves.
Lucky, lucky you.
Until next time...