Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Great Buck Howard

The Great Buck Howard (Sean McGinley, 2008) Writer-director McGinley spent some time as the road-manager to The Amazing Kreskin and that formed the basis for his script for this, a production of Tom Hanks' Playtone Pictures.

Looking at the promotional videos associated with the DVD, it would appear that Kreskin is fine with this, even though, in details, McGinley strikes rather close to the psychic bone here—yes, Kreskin in his hey-day appeared 61 times on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."  Yes, he would close his shows by guessing where an audience member had hidden his pay-check (and he always got paid). That's all duly served up as quirks of "The Great Buck Howard," played somewhat petulantly by John Malkovich.  But are the other things in the movie like this—the grandiose ego, the out-sized self-importance, the schticky "I love this town" facile platitudes, the dismissive photo distribution, the intolerance for deviation from formula, and the truculence that borders on vengefulness.  Oh, Buck can be a good guy...on occasion...but mostly he's in one big perpetual snit that you don't need a mentalist to see coming.  Which makes one wonder why someone would take the job in the first place.

Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) drops out of law-school to be the personal assistant for "The Great Buck Howard," who is doing a cross-country tour of small town America, hoping to re-kindle some of the old magic of his mentalist show, when he was more famous...or famous at all.  A publicity agent (Emily Blunt) is hired as point-person for interviews and "events" that tend to fizzle out, but she's only as effective as her sorcerous subject and he works best in a controlled environment, one under his control and can anticipate, and any deviation might throw him off.

The film has its charms for a one-sided coming-of-age story, mostly in the casting with Hanks the younger (Hanks the older plays his skeptical father in a nicely subdued and flinty cameo) as a fine, callow presence (most of his performance has to be done in the eyes in the course of observing the shenanigans, and, appropriately, Troy never takes his eyes off Howard, when the job might more appropriately call for his attention to be elsewhere.  Blunt is great, as always, even if she isn't doing much more than 'love interest," and Malkovich does a tender walk between comedy and psychosis, cruel and entertaining in one flow.  There's also some nice touches by Steve Zahn (a favorite of mine) and Ricky Jay, as bumps on the road-trip.

Still, the Kreskin connection bothers me, especially as the movie's mentalist is a bit of a jerk, never himself coming of age.  I remember the film coming out and listening to Hanks (the younger) and McGinley do "press" and never once mentioning Kreskin.  Nor did I hear anything else about the man through the film's admittedly short run.  To see him come up so specifically and directly on the DVD was a bit of a surprise.

In fact, I don't remember him ever mentioning it, before I saw that supplemental feature.

Hmmm.  Perhaps he is a clairvoyant, after all.

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