The Great Buck Howard **
Directed by Sean McGinley
Written by Sean McGinley
Colin Hanks as Troy Gabel
John Malkovich as Buck Howard
Emily Blunt as Valerie Brennan
Tom Hanks as Mr. Gabel
Ricky Jay as Gil Bellamy
Rated PG for some language including suggestive remarks, and a drug reference.
The potential behind "The Great Buck Howard" is so vast that it pained me to not actually have enjoyed the film as much as I should have. And while there is quite a lot to like about the film, it still does not change the fact that it is poorly edited, sloppily written, and ultimately a situation comedy trapped inside a ninety minute film. But the one aspect of "The Great Buck Howard" that wants me to recommend it is the absolutely wonderful performance by John Malkovich, who continues to stretch his comedy muscles from "Burn After Reading," gives a performance that the script does not deserve, as the aging illusionist Buck Howard, who is loosely based on The Amazing Kreskin.
"The Great Buck Howard" attempts to become a star vehicle for Colin Hanks, who showed quite a bit of potential in "Orange County" back in 2001, but has literally failed to show any type of range in anything he made after. Tom Hanks, listed as an executive producer and given a very small role, is clearly trying to boost his success, but without talent it would be impossible to go very far. Hanks plays Troy Gabel, and in a very clever opening credit sequence writer Sean McGinley bypasses several minutes of padding by telling Troy's story. His father intended on his son to follow his footsteps and become a lawyer, but one day Troy could no longer take it, and he walked out on law school. And he took a job with Buck Howard, who was once apparantly famous on the Johnny Carson show (with sixty appearances), and is now looking around frantically for his comeback. Charismatic, happy, and grateful for his audiences, Buck is generally always in a good mood, unless one of his inferiors screw something up, and then he just get hectic and rude. But Buck has a concept for a comeback which he is sure will have him perform in the ever elusive Las Vegas, where he will make a hundred people fall asleep as his command, and then wake up as if nothing had happened.
Malkovich is extremely engaging in his performance as Buck Howard, and he approaches this character with a gleeful recklessness. When Buck gets up on the stage and says his catchphrases "I love this town!" or "Isn't that wild!?", one cannot help but chuckle at the fact that we actually believe it, despite the fact that montages of Buck's work fill up such a large portion of the screenplay. I think McGinley would have benefited from some more study on Buck, as there is potential for a strong melancholic aspect to his character-a performer whose days have run up, but still has that core of people that love him which keep him going. McGinley aims for an easy way out, with montage after montage of Buck doing his tricks, and eventually going on the talk show circuit, and while cameos by Conan O'Brien or Jay Leno (who is a very fun running joke throughout the film) are fun, it gets tiresome after a while, and the eighty five minutes begin to feel strained.
Another failed aspect of the film is the love story that develops between Troy and Buck' publicist Valerie, played well by Emily Blunt, who is as charming as always, but not given much to really do. The love story, if it could even be called that as it only transpires over the course of a few scenes. There is no real point to it, and by the end it does not change Hanks character, or even enhance the story in anyway, and it was clearly a device by the script because McGinley did not know what else to do with the Buck Howard character, which is a rather baffling concept especially with the talent in front of the camera.
Underneath, "The Great Buck Howard" attempts to be a satire/commentary on the show business world, but there is nothing really subtle about it. McGinley's direction skills are mediocre and not very inspired, aside from a few clever moments, such as the aforementioned credit sequence which really does pace the movie well by not including that information over the course of several scenes. The screenplay has moments of wittiness. One of my favorite portions of the film comes from Buck Howard's signature trick, where he has the audience hide his pay in the crowd, where he then finds it. How does he do it? Some say that he has a small microphone in his ear that feeds him the information, but he declines this. We never really find out how Buck does his trick, but Malkovich allows us to have faith in him that there is a way beyond anything that we can fanthom. And that maybe Buck Howard really is as great as he leads on.
I am very torn between if I liked "The Great Buck Howard" or not. I certainly cannot recommend it for being an innovative and unique film-Sean McGinley did not exactly prove to me that he is adaquate behind the camera or in front of a typewriter. This is definetly John Malkovich's show, and he transcends the screenplay to create an extremely unique and constantly engaging performance that is almost enough for me to recommend, but a film cannot be commended for one great aspect and several weak ones. "The Great Buck Howard" does not lead up to its title, but perhaps it something to stumble across one day down the line.