The Great Buck Howard
Buck Howard has issues. The once-great Mentalist–please don’t call him a Magician–played The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times, he’ll have you know, yet now he’s relegated to performing for half-filled theaters in towns like Akron and Dayton. Though he professes to crave a return to the Big Time, he seems to revel in being a fourth-tier celebrity catering to un-hip Middle America–and Middle America, for its part, loves him right back. Buck’s a tyrant as a boss–having just fired one assistant, his law school-dropout replacement, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) soon finds that he’s there as much to protect Buck from the harsh realities of the world as he is to attend to his professional needs. Their dysfunctional relationship seems to function quite well until Buck prepares to stage his career comeback–by putting 100 people to sleep at once–and Troy falls for Rebecca (Emily Blunt), the New York publicist sent to engineer Buck’s PR triumph.
Malkovich gives a subtle performance that he seems born to play. He inhabits Buck’s wildly idiosyncratic mannerisms–“I love this town!” he squeals with glee every time he takes the stage or his overly aggressively handshakes which threaten to de-limb the recipients – and brings a love to him that could have easily slipped into condescension in the hands of a lesser actor. As Troy, who deftly guides Buck through his attempted comeback, Hanks, the son of actor Tom Hanks (who is the movie’s producer as well as playing Troy’s father), combines the Everyman charm of his father with a distinctly individual charisma all his own. Buck Howard is a little film that seems very big indeed with outsized performances from Malkovich and Hanks. The film is a profound meditation on fame in our age of uber-celebrity positing that just maybe being famous isn’t necessarily about having the biggest audience – it’s about being the most loved. And that Buck surely is.
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