Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great Buck Howard

Directed by Sean McGinly.
2009. Rated PG, 90 minutes.
John Malkovich
Colin Hanks
Emily Blunt
Ricky Jay
Steve Zahn
Adam Scott
Debra Monk
Tom Hanks

Matthew Gray Gubler

Mentalist Buck Howard (Malkovich) makes his living performing effects in small, dingy, rundown, half empty theaters all across the nation. He seems to think he’s a bigger star than he actually is. Once upon a time, he really was a big deal. As he’s quick to tell you, he appeared 61 times on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. He stresses the fact that it was with Carson and not Leno, whom he despises. He also stresses he’s a mentalist, not a magician. He despises them, also. If you couldn’t tell, Buck is rather insufferable. He’s arrogant, bossy and quick-tempered. Because he is “The Great” Buck Howard, we are somehow beneath him.

Young Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) has just dropped out of law school. He only went because it was his father’s dream for him. His father is played in a small role by Colin’s real life and more famous dad Tom Hanks. Law school made Troy miserable, so he’s trying to find his own way in life.

Troy gets hired to be Buck’s new road manager. The guy he’s replacing is supposed to train him but refuses after a big blowup with Buck. Along with Troy, we learn that big blowups are an almost daily occurrence in Buck’s world.

John Malkovich plays the role perfectly. We can see the patience for us mere mortals leaving his face when things aren’t going exactly according to plan. This, combined with the near constant ravings of a disillusioned man creates tension and comedy. Perhaps the best example of this is when one of his adoring fans (he does, in fact, have a loyal following) who happens to run one of the theaters he plays decides to do an impromptu introduction of him instead of using his pre-taped one. His reaction is priceless. He makes the movie fun to watch.

Despite all this, The Great Buck Howard is hardly about Buck Howard. It’s more about Troy and the lesson Buck teaches him. Thankfully, it does a good job of making us wait for that lesson. It also manages to transform the unlikeable Buck into a sympathetic figure. By the way, for fans of magicians…er…mentalists, Buck is loosely based on The Amazing Kreskin (google is your friend, here).

It’s not a comedy for most of the Hot Tub Time Machine crowd, but it is funny. The story is told well and provides us with plenty of ups and downs. Every time it seems he’s set things up perfectly to get his next big break, something goes wrong. Almost everytime, but I’ll say no more. Best of all and perhaps key to Buck as a character, try as we might, we never find out just how Buck Howard manages to be so great.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

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