“Great Buck Howard” Pulls Cinematic Rabbit Out of Hat
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I took up magic in the third grade. It was fun to mystify my friends. Not so hard when you had a $39.95 kit comprised of trick playing cards, a two-headed quarter, cups and disappearing ball, and connecting metal rings.
By high school I had mastered the rudiments of hypnotism. Nobody was able to beat the female bus driver at arm wrestling, until I used hypnotic techniques to freeze her hand to the table.
The power of suggestion.
You’ll see a stage hypnotist at work in “The Great Buck Howard,” the John Malkovich comedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Buck Howard (Malkovich in a bad hairpiece) is a washed-up mentalist, no longer invited on the Tonight Show. But he goes from small town gig to small town gig bragging about his 61 past appearances back when Johnny Carson was host. Each new venue is greeted with pseudo-enthusiasm (“I love this town!”) that belies the rut of his professional life.
But what if …
This magical comeback comedy is seen through the eyes of a law-school dropout (Colin Hanks – yes, Tom’s son). Looking for an entry into show business, the boy signs on as personal assistant to this belligerent has-been magician.
The boy’s father (Tom Hanks in a bit of stunt casting) isn’t happy with his son’s new career.
However, with the help of a plucky publicist (Emily Blunt), plus a stroke of luck, ol’ Buck lands back in the limelight. Delivering a few lessons in life along the way.
Malkovich’s character is loosely based on the Amazing Kreskin, the popular ’70s performer. Turns out, writer-director Sean McGinly worked briefly as the road manager for Kreskin.
George Joseph Kresge, Jr. says he was inspired to become a mentalist by reading Mandrake the Magician comic strips as a kid. Known for his mental powers, Kreskin allowed audiences to hide his paycheck after each performance. He’s only failed to find it nine times in his entire career.
Not looking for a big paycheck, Tom Hanks produced “The Great Buck Howard” as a nice acting platform for his son.
Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Martha Stewart, along with Regis Philbin and Kelly Rippa, make appearances as themselves. Even magician David Blaine shows up for a little legerdemain.
But it’s Malkovich’s over-the-top performance that renders this movie charming. An oddball actor, he’s like acquiring a taste for anchovies. Strange things go on inside his head. As you’ll discover in “The Great Buck Howard.”
Abracadabra, you’re inside John Malkovich.
[from Solares Hill]