Parenthood is, quite rightly, the stand-out. Martin, who has never received the credit he deserves for being almost as brilliant an actor as he is a comedian, gives a delightfully nuanced performance as Gil Buckman, a neurotic father who is desperately trying to juggle the responsibilities of being a husband, being a parent and holding down a successful job while not repeating his own father’s mistakes. It’s a touching and laugh-out-loud portrait of what a madhouse families can be, and Martin more than holds his own alongside a fantastic cast that includes Jason Robards, Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen and Tom Hulce, with flawless direction by Ron Howard. It also (if you overlook some of the hairstyles) hasn’t aged a bit, probably because the emotional core of the story will always be universal. And who can resist a movie with lines like, “If she’s so smart why is she sat in our neighbours car”?
Bowfinger, the story of how Hollywood’s least successful movie director (Martin) co-opts Tinsel Town’s biggest star (Eddie Murphy) to unknowingly appear in his latest ultra-low-budget film, is also a movie that only seems to improve with age. Once again, Martin has a brilliant cast to work with (could this be Eddie Murphy’s best film? I think so) and the script works on so many levels it’s hard to count: is it a dead-on satire about Hollywood, a sly reworking of ‘The Little Engine that Could’, a comedic slamming of The Church of Scientology (Murphy’s character is involved with a cult called MindHead, and convinced that he’s being stalked by aliens) or a riff on the insanity of celebrity culture? It doesn’t really matter, Bowfinger is genius whichever way you look at it. And I can’t be the only one who wants to see a sequel to Chubby Rain…
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, despite running out of steam by the middle of the second act, is still worth a look. True, it isn’t nearly as funny as it wants to be (or thinks it is) and its central conceit – editing in scenes from famous film noirs, so it looks as if Martin’s private eye is actually interacting with Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Lana Turner etc. – is probably the only thing that keeps it interesting (the lighting, costume design and editing of those sequences is seamless). But Rachel Ward is perfect as the femme fatale and who can resist a Nazi plot involving deadly cheese bombs? It might be the weakest of Martin’s collaborations with legendary director Carl Reiner (nothing can beat the film they would make together the following year, The Man with Two Brains) but it’s far from being a stinker.
Which brings us to the stinker. Sgt. Bilko – the big-screen re-envisioning of a popular 1950s TV series that fails on practically every level and should have taught Steve Martin a lesson about never again making a movie based on a well-loved comic character that somebody else used to play (a mistake he would repeat exactly a decade later, when he unadvisedly attempted to resuscitate The Pink Panther franchise). Bilko is a car crash, and not even Martin’s infectious likeability can put it back on the road.
As a collection, the DVDs are basically the same versions that have always been on sale, except with the addition of a cardboard box to keep them in. If you already own the films it’s not worth the double-dip, but if you still need to add some Steve Martin wild-and-crazy-guyness to your shelves then this set is a decent place to start. It’s just a shame they didn’t ditch Bilko and gives us The Man with Two Brains, The Lonely Guy, L.A. Stories or My Blue Heaven instead (that collection would get a 10/10 all day long).
THE STEVE MARTIN COLLECTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: STEVE MARTIN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW