"Bowfinger" is one of those films you wish was better — not just for your own personal enjoyment, but for the benefit of the people in it.

That's not to say that this parody of the Hollywood entertainment business is a complete dud. In fact, the film features some hysterically funny gags that are among the best seen on the big screen this year.

But the comedy is too frantically paced, and you can sense the cast trying hard — in some cases, too hard — in a futile effort to somehow elevate the erratic material to greatness. And though it may not be readily apparent to some audiences, at times the humor is surprisingly mean-spirted (especially bits directed at other celebrities) and even a tad too politically incorrect.

Still, this kind of film is definitely a step in the right direction for stars Steve Martin (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and Eddie Murphy, neither of whom has really set the cinematic world on fire lately.

Martin plays Bobby Bowfinger, an aging, would-be filmmaker who's running out of time careerwise. In desperation, he stakes his hopes on a science-fiction/action film called "Chubby Rain" from a script written by his accountant.

Unfortunately, Bowfinger has extremely limited resources (mainly, about $2,000 in cash). And even his most loyal crew members — including overly theatrical actress Carol (Christine Baranski) and jack-of-all trades Dave (Jamie Kennedy) — are losing faith in him.

Consequently, he hatches a risky scheme to get action star Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to be in the film — he begins stalking the panicky actor and filming him without permission, while the other actors perform their lines around him.

However, few members of the cast and crew are aware of the subterfuge (instead, they believe Kit is just being "eccentric"). What's worse, the odd happenings around him begin driving the star crazy, which forces him into seclusion.

So, to finish the film, Bowfinger enlists the help of Jiff (Murphy again), a nerdy lookalike who takes Kit's place in several scenes.

As you can probably tell, it's a complex premise. But Martin the screenwriter and director Frank Oz ("In & Out," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") do a good job of untangling several messy plot threads to make it nearly coherent. And the brisk pacing ensures that there isn't much time to think about the story's sheer implausibility.

On the performance side, Martin is surprisingly restrained, taking a backseat to Murphy, who seems to be straining for laughs as Kit. But as Jiff, Murphy's more natural and relaxed and therefore funnier.

Where the real laughs come from, however, is the supporting cast: Baranski is appropriately bombastic, while Heather Graham is particularly good as a manipulative young actress who uses her "charms" to get ahead in the business.

"Bowfinger" is rated PG-13 for profanity (including the so-called R-rated profanity), use of racial epithets, comic violence, some crude sexual humor and gore (also done for laughs).