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  The Great Buck Howard

Starring: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn

Directed by: Sean McGinly

Produced by: Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman

Written by: Sean McGinly

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

    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.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.19.2009

Screened on: 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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