Steve Martin has got to be one of our finest comedians, but he often chooses to star in less than great films. But once in a while, he writes his own material, to great results. Bowfinger is his first script since the brilliant romantic fantasy L.A. Story, a wicked satire of the absurdity of the Los Angeles lifestyle. This time, Martin takes a shot at Hollywood and the movie industry. He plays Bobby Bowfinger, a producer/director with no money and even less talent. Yet he loves cinema and is determined to make it big, and he thinks he found the script that’s gonna launch his career. Written by his accountant, Chubby Rain is a “fascinating” tale about aliens who infiltrate rain drops to invade Earth ! Bowfinger’s got a studio executive who’ll back the film, but only if he can get Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), the biggest action star there is. Bowfinger’s obviously unable to do that, so he decides to cheat, lie and steal to make the picture anyway. He figures that he can just stalk Ramsey with a camera and have actors go up to him and say their lines, and there you go, Kit Ramsey’s in the movie!

So Bowfinger rounds up a bunch of losers like a young babe right out of Ohio who’s ready to sleep with anybody to get ahead (played by Heather Graham, who’s funnier than in “Austin Powers 2” where she just reacted to Mike Myers), an aging actress who thinks she’s a real pro (Christine Baranski) and a studio production assistant (Jamie Kennedy) who “borrows” equipment for him. But eventually, the already paranoid and neurotic Kit freaks out is hidden by the Scientology-style cult he frequents, Mind Head. That ain’t enough to stop Bowfinger, who solves the problem by hiring a look-alike named Jiff (also played by Murphy), an innocent, dimwitted but endearing fast food clerk. You got to admit that this is a wonderful premise, and Martin’s greatish script does it justice. The movie is packed with big laughs, without even resorting to the toilet humor so popular this summer. Instead, we get an insightful and resourceful satire. I love how, like in “L.A. Story”, Martin never stops taking pokes at the various faces of human behavior. He’s a master with words, turning almost any line into a witty and hilarious one-liner. I also love how Bowfinger’s crew manage to actually make a movie with almost nothing thanks to dumb luck and the magic of editing.

Bowfinger was directed by Frank Oz, who went from puppeteering Muppets (he’s the voice of Miss Piggy, and of Yoda in “Star Wars”) to directing mainstream, mostly enjoyable comedies like “What About Bob?” and “In and Out”. Yet I often feel that as clever and funny his movies can be, they never really quite reach brilliance. Oz doesn’t have the stylish edge of say, Tim Burton, who did take his cheap filmmaking comedy “Ed Wood” to the next level. Bowfinger is still superior to most comedies we’ve seen this year, and after Martin’s writing you certainly have to credit Eddie Murphy, in one of his finest comic performances. He’s hysterically funny as the paranoid, egocentric Kit, but mostly as the dumb but sweet Jiff. The freeway scene has got to become a classic, and the expression on Murphy’s face when Heather Graham shows him her breasts is just priceless. “Bowfinger” presents us with a wonderful comic duo and shows that it’s still possible to make audiences laugh out loud without using bodily fluids.