Once upon a time, Buck Howard [John Malkovich] spent his days in the limelight as a mentalist extraordinaire! Nowadays, it s clear to everyone except Buck that his act has lost its luster. Convinced his comeback is imminen... more »t, Buck needs a new road manager and personal assistant. Recent law school drop-out and would-be writer Troy Gable [Colin Hanks] needs a job and a purpose. Working for the pompous, has-been mentalist fills the former requirement, but how it satisfies the latter is questionable. Nonetheless, with the aid of a fiery publicist [Emily Blunt] and a bold stroke of luck, Buck lands back in the American consciousness, taking Troy along for the ride.« less
"Among the many films that are released each year we are treated to some huge blockbusters. One this week out on DVD will no doubt be WATCHMEN. But while that movie may be the most sought after film, it will also leave many behind who won't get to the store in time for their copy. So instead, why not take a risk and watch something a bit more human, a bit more funny and a bit more sad. Why not watch THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD?
If you've never heard nor seen this film don't be surprised. As I said, blockbusters tend to take up space in the multiplexes around the country where an 18 screen complex offers only 4 films at a time. If you have HDNet, you may have caught it on the premier night it ran. If not, do so now.
Colin Hanks stars as Troy Gable, a young student in college studying to be a lawyer not because he loves it or sees himself having a future here but because his father has sent him here. Realizing he has no desire to live this life, he takes off and heads to LA and begins searching for a job. This results in his meeting the Great Buck Howard, now in search of a new road manager.
Buck Howard (John Malkovich) is a low level celebrity on the down side of life. At one time a notable performer who was featured on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times, he now finds himself playing regional theaters to half packed audiences. But at least these people are fans, those who recall his glory days and now have that moment to bask in the glow of this celebrity who has come to their lives.
Buck is a strange character. A mentalist with a touch now and then of magic, Buck is hard on his staff of one but loving of his crowd when on stage. Until a few take things into their own hand in one instance throwing off his game a bit. But Buck genuinely loves performing for these people and he does so stupendously, always ending with his signature trick where he has someone hide his fee for the night and then returns to the stage to locate it in the audience.
But even though he is the character centered in the title, the story is more about Troy than it is Buck. Troy is at that time in his life where he's trying to decide what he wants to do. He wants to be a writer but with little life experience, he finds himself gaining more and more as he travels with Buck from town to town. He sees Buck's ups and downs, his dealing with overindulgent fans, uninterested media types and many who have forgotten him.
Into Troy and Buck's life comes Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt), a press agent sent out to handle Buck and a special event he has planned in an attempt to once again get into the spotlight. Valerie and Troy become romantically involved but catastrophe looms around the corner as Buck begins to place over 300 people into a trance at once. Unfortunately he's doing so in Cincinnati and at the same time Jerry Springer is involved in an accident. When the moment comes, no one is there to see it.
But word slowly gets out after Buck collapses and he suddenly becomes big once more. One recalls that Huey Lewis lyric "It's hip to be square". Buck suddenly finds himself on TV shows, being lured by Vegas and finally having the chance to go on The Tonight Show once again. But his rise leads to a decline as well and we are left to wonder what will happen to the Great Buck Howard? And what will become of Troy and Valerie as well?
Tons of celebrities make cameos in this coming of age tale including Regis and Kelly, Martha Stewart, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Tom Arnold, Conan O'Brien, George Takei and Tom Hanks (Colin's real life father) as Troy's father, the man who wants him in law school at any costs. And each scene with these celebs comes off as real and genuine, a testament to all actors involved, especially Malkovich.
This movie may not be the big blockbuster release of the week. But it is a film that will entertain and delight that those of us who recall the great days of Carson's Tonight Show will enjoy. Of note, the film (at least the stage work) is based on the Amazing Kreskin who director/writer Sean McGinley worked for as road manager. His love shines through in the character of Buck Howard. And I dare anyone to walk away from this film not feeling the same affection for a little known celebrity on the outs trying to work his way back in. "
Ben T. | San Jose, CA | 05/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you ever had to wonder why you loved John Malkovitch, this is the reason why. This is the kind of movie you watch with your mouth open. The acting is strong. There's not a lot happening, this isn't a thriller, but even in the most ordinary scenes you can see that everyone believes in their characters. I thought I had this film figured out, but I was happily wrong. This story defies convention! John is simply fantastic in this role. Colin Hanks turns in a competent performance. He's a young actor so he still has to cut his teeth a little, but he did a fair enough job. His father even shows up for a scene and that's always nice.
But the real heart of the story I think is "do you still believe in magic?" not the real kind with witches and spells - but "magic" in a sense of wonder and amazement. I don't want to give anything away but in every scene when you think the story is about to fall apart, John Malkovitch pulls it off! He holds this film together with his bare hands. He's like a rock surrounded by superglue. He just makes this story happen. The way he talks about the human spirit -- without talking about it. The only way I can give an analogy is...remember in "Braveheart" at the end when he dies for his people and screams "Freedom!" well, that scene only works if you completely believe in his character. If you believe that William Wallace really was THAT much of a believer. Mel Gibson took that character to the wall and you had to believe it.
THAT's what John does with Buck Howard. The character is so outrageous and over the top that at first you laugh at him. But then later on you come to realize that this man is a believer. This man is for real, this isn't an act. He's not acting. Buck Howard does believe in the magic of the human soul.
There is a scene at the end when Buck Howard looks at Colin Hanks. Looks at him and you will believe, too. When I left the theater I said to my friends "I have just seen the best movie of the year. And it's March.""
A genuinely fresh movie
D. J. Nardi | Washington, DC | 08/29/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm not a huge John John Malkovich fan, but this seems like one of those rare occasions when actor and role seem perfectly matched to produce an entertaining movie. Malkovich plays Buck Howard, a failing magician loosely based on the Amazing Kreskin. Malkovich's character is both corny and charming. He undergoes a transformation from being frustrated with his fate of performing for small-town America, to finding the his big break didn't necessarily bring him what he most needed. Meanwhile, Colin Hanks (Tom Hank's son) plays a young man searching for himself after dropping out of law school. Ultimately, this movie isn't a slapstick comedy and you probably won't find yourself laughing out loud. Nonetheless, it has some funny moments and is a breath of fresh air compared to the stale comedies Hollywood has been producing (with their utterly predictable plots).I found myself unable to predict where exactly the story was going or what would happen next to Buck Howard - and I loved that. Hopefully you will too."
The Lifetime of a Performance
Richard Hine | 08/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It doesn't have the CGI razzle-dazzle of a summer blockbuster or even the pyrotechnics of a Criss Angel show, but THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD is a movie that will delight anyone who:
a) is a fan of the great John Malkovich;
b) has an enduring fondness for the showmanship of "mentalists" like The Amazing Kreskin (the real-life inspiration for the character of Buck Howard);
c) wants to believe in the possibility of magic and the importance of following your dreams.
Malkovich is the heart and soul of this movie and his portrayal of The Great Buck Howard whose enthusiasm ("I love this town!") for his performing life endures no matter how small the town he's in or the stage he's on. Colin Hanks can't match the great John for his on-screen charisma, but gives a likable enough performance as Troy, the kid who disappoints his dad (Tom Hanks) to become Buck's traveling sidekick. Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne and Ricky Jay supply some additional star power and credibility to the funny, sad, and magical events that unfold.
Special features include Outtakes, a Behind-the-scenes featurette and an interview with the Amazing Kreskin himself."
Modest, quirky and very charming, with a wonderful cast.
RMurray847 | Albuquerque, NM United States | 03/06/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD is a charming, breezy, fairly family-friendly movie with a nice cast and an almost old-fashioned vibe. It's far from a great movie, and yet it has a quirky originality that makes it worth a look.
Buck Howard (John Malkovich) is a mentalist. In fact, his act is based on The Amazing Kreskin, the hypnotist/mentalist/magician who frequently appeared on Johnny Carson and other talk shows like that. Buck is a fading star however, playing to half-empty theaters in mid-sized cities all around the country. His audience is mostly senior citizens who clearly remember this guy from his days of appearing on THE DINAH SHORE SHOW. His act is sort of dreadful...yet it's sort of amazing too. Colin Hanks plays Troy, a law-school dropout who wants to be a writer, but stumbles into the job of being Buck's road manager.
The film follows Buck on tour, as he works to achieve a comeback of sorts. He doesn't quite seem to get that the likelihood of that is very dim. He isn't deluded enough to think his career is in great shape (he gets that he's become, at best, a third-rate celebrity), but he DOES think that he just needs that one piece of great publicity to rocket himself back into stardom.
The movie takes a bumpy but fairly unsurprising road. It's mostly the charming performers who make it worth watching (and the excellent art & costume direction). Hanks is looking more like his father Tom all the time, and while he doesn't have the gravitas his dad has, he's a nice performer who one day is probably cut out to star in a TV series. (He was excellent during his guest stint on MAD MEN). His Troy is something of a blank...if we didn't get the occasional voice-over narration, we would really struggle to know what kinds of inner turmoil Troy is going through...the script doesn't reveal much about him through the events of the film; he's mostly an observer. Emily Blunt, always welcome, is the publicist who tries to get Buck some national exposure, and also embarks on a predictable but fairly chaste (at least, on screen) romance with Troy. Steve Zahn, again an always welcome presence, shows up briefly as a sort-of limo driver. Griffin Dunne makes a cameo appearance. Tom Hanks even shows up in two scenes as Troy's father (what a stretch!!). He's a producer on the film, so no doubt his influence helped land the film it's plethora of guest stars, including Conan O'Brien, Regis, Kelly, Leno, Tom Arnold, etc. (Arnold has about two lines, both throwaways, and both really funny if you're listening).
The core of the film is Malkovich. I still remember when he was an amazing, credible actor who could play weird characters and make them believable. He has long ago sunk into just being weird most of the time. But his Buck Howard is almost a return to his glory days. The script is too slight to REALLY give us an idea of what is going on inside Buck...but Malkovich launches into the PERSONA of this man with relish and a real sense of fun. It isn't exactly a believable character...but we're mostly only seeing the Buck Howard that his shrinking public sees. Wacky but charming. Enthusiastic but prone to fits of petty anger. Able to charm men & women alike (we never even know what sexual orientation Buck is...even though there's speculation in the film). We have to guess a lot at any inner turmoil he might be feeling (much like with the character of Troy).
There's a truly probing story in here somewhere, but the writer/director apparently wasn't interested in anything too emotional or insightful. It's a fluffy piece, where any bad feelings are quickly overcome. It doesn't take its subject matter lightly, exactly...but it does feel like a conscious decision to make this story breezy. For what it attempts, THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD gets a big smile and a mild recommendation from me.
I said the movie was family friendly. There was virtually no bad language I can remember (it's only PG rated), and the relationship between Blunt and Hanks is mostly hugging and kissing. (We get that they must sleep together, but other than them sitting on a bed necking while fully clothed, that's all we see.) A child of 12 or older with a willingness to see a film outside the ordinary might like this film...or they might find it merely a puzzling curiosity. And not knowing how big THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON once was might detract. "