The Great Buck Howard is the
epitome of pleasant, but disposable filmmaking, amiably acted
and assembled but utterly inconsequential in nature.
John Malkovich plays the titular
washed-up “mentalist”—don’t dare call him a magician—who made 61
appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” but can’t book
Leno’s program, leaving him to play only half-capacity dates in
Podunk towns. Colin Hanks is protagonist Troy Gable, a young man
who flees from law school and takes a job as Buck’s assistant,
not knowing what to expect. The ensuing story moves in every
direction you’d expect it to, with Buck’s career gaining steam
after he performs an impressive trick covered by “Entertainment
Tonight” and Troy’s outlook on his future by turn becoming
murkier as he finds himself both attracted and repelled by
Buck’s eccentric qualities.
For mostly standard-issue spice,
writer/director Sean McGinley juxtaposes the two characters’
life-crises, which stem from their similar lack of self-purpose.
Troy feels the inevitable pressures of young adulthood,
discomforted by his nonexistent career path, and Buck ails as he
becomes progressively more aware that his life-defining act is
in decline (and the fact he might not have been popular as
popular as he thought to begin with). Of course, The Great
Buck Howard never skims below the surface in exploring the
characters’ unlikely, usually unspoken connection because it
seeks to maintain a lighthearted, whimsical tone that won’t
allow for darker themes. (The makers would probably like me to
call the approach “zany,” but that would be giving their movie
too much credit.)
Then again, perhaps I’m being
inappropriately harsh by criticizing The Great Buck Howard’s
simple approach because I was at least marginally entertained as
I watched the film, which is ultimately the audience-response it
seeks. (The fact that I immediately started to forget about it
as the credits rolled was probably not as intended.) Malkovich
and Hanks, though never required to flex their acting muscles
more than a few centimeters, are engaging and likable as ever in
presence. Those looking for an enjoyable, inoffensive way to
waste 87 minutes—especially convenient in this case as
distributor Magnolia the film providing it day-and-date OnDemand—will
find The Great Buck Howard a perfect fit. They may even
occasionally get a little more out of it, especially when the
luminous Emily Blunt provides support as Troy’s love-interest.
2.7.2009 at the Laemmle Grande 4 in Downtown Los Angeles, CA.
The Great Buck Howard is rated PG and
runs 90 minutes.
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