Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Great Buck Howard

As The Great Buck Howard opens, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) quits law school to become an assistant to Buck Howard (John Malkovich) - an unpleasant eccentric touring a circuit of Grade B theaters across America as a mentalist. As the film closes, Buck Howard is an unpleasant eccentric touring a circuit of Grade B theaters as a mentalist. Little happens in between. Very little. Buck nearly resurrects his career to the heights it achieved twenty years ago when he was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson (think The Amazing Kreskin). Then his own bitterness and an ill timed lapse in his abilities send him back to that Grade B circuit, oddly content with the realization that it has become the place where he belongs. Troy sticks with Buck through a little thick and a lot of thin, happy that he's doing something real. Troy resists the cynicism (but not the sex appeal) of publicist Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) and finds himself as a writer.

So much for story. The Great is essentially a character study with a peek at old time, small time theater entertainment, an indie sheep in studio clothing. John Malkovich makes Buck Howard believable, but not enjoyable. His commitment to playing Howard as a petty egomaniac may actually kill the picture. It just doesn't seem all that important when Buck responds to Troy's doubt with yet another successful demonstration of his signature effect, a performance that amazes Troy along with the small town audience and shows that Buck is right where he belongs. Colin Hanks is unobjectionable, but he just doesn't add enough to make the picture go. Watson shines in a role that's less than pivotal.

Stay home. Rent only if you are committed to viewing the entire Malkovich cannon.

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