Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Great Buck Howard


Review by Patrick Hodges

“It’s over.”

The bitterest pill that any entertainer will ever face; they are old hat, irrelevant, a forgotten fossil that should be put out to pasture.  Some seek employment in Las Vegas or Atlantic City; some write their memoirs; others gracefully coast off into retirement and are never heard from again.  Buck Howard is none of these people.  But, oh, there was a time…

Way back when, you see, Buck Howard (John Malkovich) was the talk of the show-biz circuit.  Dubbed “The Great Buck Howard” by Johnny Carson during his whopping 61 appearances on The Tonight Show, entertaining audiences on a regular basis with his amazing repertoire of mentalism, magic, and comedy.

These days, however, he has been relegated to doing one-night-only shows to sparse crowds in tiny towns.  But he has his following, and he continues to perform no matter the venue.  Enter Troy Gable (Colin Hanks), a law-school-dropout who signs on as Howard’s road manager after Buck fires his current one.

Needless to say, the job is not easy.  Life on the road can be very unglamorous, and Howard himself quite frequently crosses the line.  Most of the time he is charming, even personable, but he often degrades into a childish, narcissistic jerk who continues to deny that he is past his prime.  Also dogging Troy are the reproaches of his father (played by Hanks’ real-life father, Tom… perhaps you’ve heard of him), who is understandably dismayed by his current career path.

The film moves along at a crisp pace, and takes an unexpected turn when a previously-untried trick brings Howard a sudden an explosive career resurgence.  But you know pretty much where the film is going long before it ends, much like the story of all of these old-school performers who hover on the edge of relevancy.

I would give The Great Buck Howard a marginal recommendation based on the sheer charisma of Malkovich.  The younger Hanks is passable in the role of Troy, though he has little chance to show much range or growth.  The two scenes that feature father Tom are pretty good as well, as are the supporting cast, which includes Steve Zahn, Emily Blunt, Ricky Jay and a whole host of celebrities (appearing as themselves).

And then there’s the “money trick”.  Did I forget to mention that?  Well, you’ll just have to see the film to experience it.

3 / 5 stars

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