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The Great Buck Howard

Dir: Sean McGinley

Rating: 2.0

Magnolia Pictures

87 Minutes

One of the pleasures of working on staff with other film aficionados is that we can compare notes. When we love something, we foist it upon our colleagues and then bask in the glow when they report a positive response to the film or think them morons when they disagree. One of the bigger benefits of trusting someone’s opinion is that you don’t have to suffer a film that they say to stay away from like a toxic dump. Take for example this email exchange between myself and a writer about Sunshine Cleaning:

“Great review. Movie sounds dreadful. Thanks for sparing me that one. I just had to sit through the Great Buck Howard.”

“Thank you. I think it’s so unfair that Tom Hanks and Will Smith are shoving their offspring down our throats.”

“Yeah…and that ghastly Emily Blunt is in it too.”

Well, maybe my comment on Ms. Blunt is unfair, but my sentiment for forcing myself to sit through the pointless Buck Howard is truth. Starring John Malkovich as a has-been mentalist, who had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times but is now playing C-circuit theaters in towns like Bakersfield and Akron, the film is as one-note as Malkovich’s performance. Also starring Colin Hanks (likable in King Kong) as his hapless Everyman-who-wants-to-skip-law-school-to-be-a-writer assistant, I thought to myself, “Eh, maybe Hanks Jr. is becoming an actor in his own right.” Then I saw Papa Hanks’s name listed as producer. Nepotism at its finest.

This film feels like one of those bad ’80s movies that constantly plays on cable television. The characters are corny, the script is predictable and the incidental music cues us when to laugh and when to fret. Malkovich’s narcissistic and clueless Buck Howard grows old fast with his annoying tics (stock phrases, crazy handshake, bad direction sense) and Hanks’s dopey cipher is so bland you want to throw some Tapatio on him. Blunt, who shows up as a publicist, serves little purpose than to screw Hanks and scowl.

Though there are some humorous bits, such as when Howard’s career experiences a resurgence and he guests on TRL and Regis and Kelly, most of the jokes are eye-rollers. Other has-beens such as George Takei, Don Most, Michael Winslow and Gary Coleman make appearances, smacking of the cheap production value of a show on VH-1. Also, what the hell is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah doing getting mixed up in this mess?

Malkovich, as always, is quite watchable even though his source material is thin. I found myself feeling compassion for his wayward wizard, even though I disliked him. For a performer to scratch out some empathy from a script this vapid takes some considerable skill. If there is any magic involved in this film, it resides solely with Malkovich.

by David Harris

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