The Great Buck Howard
Bristol Bay Productions
The world of “The Great” Buck Howard is one of bad suits, toothy grins, outrageous claims, and faded has-been memories. The one thing Buck knows though, is that everybody loves a good show. Both Buck, played by John Malkovich, and the film deliver a fun and entertaining experience. At first Malkovich may seem like an unusual choice to cast, but he successfully brings humanity and intensity to a role that could have easily been reduced to an empty caricature and delivers a wonderful performance as the aging once-famous showman and mentalist with an occasional diva streak.
The film is based on real-life mentalist and mind-reader “The Amazing Kreskin” who, as he is known to eagerly tell everyone, appeared numerous times on the Johnny Carson show. The movie though doesn’t have to go far for inspiration. Surprisingly it’s also the semi-autobiographical tale of Sean McKinley, who coincidentally both wrote and directed the movie. The main narrator and supporting star of the film, like Mckinley, also drops out of law school to persue his dreams of becoming, you guessed it, a writer. He instead somehow winds up becoming The Amazing Kers… I mean The Great Buck Howard’s road manager. The real life parallels don’t end there- Even Colin Hank’s dad in the film is played his real life father, Tom Hanks.
The compelling story and fascinating and charismatic main character, which are the heart of the film’s appeal, seem to have been stumbled upon by good fortune rather than created, which shows through. The dialogue is weak and chemistry and depth is lacking in the other characters. I have said it once and I’ll say it a million times: Writing and directing your own film is almost always is a bad idea, especially when the film is about the writer. No matter what you think, you aren’t that interesting.
A big problem was the heavy use of voice-over in the film, which left the main character Troy standing around not doing very much the rest of the time. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a tedious dear-diary entry. This feeling is accentuated by a bland match-made-in-homeroom romance with a rather dislikeable love interest, who at times came off as bitchy and self-centered with little to compel a connection.
Even with those complaints, Malkovich’s performance is able transcend these shortcomings and singlehandedly redeems the film. Despite itself, the movie still manages to be endearing and fun, offering a charming look at the strange glitzy appeal of show biz and the thrill of tasting fame.