Eugene Weekly : Movies : 4.23.09


Slight, But Handy
The Hanks men (and Malkovich) team up
by Molly Templeton

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD: Written and directed by Sean McGinly. Cinematography, Tak Fujimoto. Editor, Myron Kerstein. Music, Blake Neely. Starring Colin Hanks, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, Ricky Jay and Tom Hanks. Magnolia Pictures, 2009. 87 minutes.

Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, John Malkovich and Steve Zahn in The Great Buck Howard

The charms of The Great Buck Howard, director Sean McGinly’s second film, are humble, but they’re charms all the same. The story of a mostly washed-up mentalist — magic, as one character says, is a dirty word in this profession — played with gusto by a huffy John Malkovich in a funky wig, Howard is less interesting as a slight, sweet satire on fame than it is as a chance to briefly consider the potential career of Colin (son of Tom) Hanks. The younger Hanks is a chip off his father’s everyman block, and while his voiceover narration is just chipper enough to be a little bit grating, his performance as Troy Gable, Buck Howard’s assistant/road manager, is a sweet and gentle thing, a solid turn as a young man finding his way in the world. Apart from the requisite moment of parental disapproval (Dad is played by Hanks’ real pops, who’s also one of the film’s producers), Troy’s journey isn’t particularly difficult: He hates law school so drops out to write, but finds he needs a job to support his writing. On what feels like his very first job interview, he’s hired to work for Buck, quickly taking over greater duties after Buck fires his amusingly skeevy road manager (Adam Scott). 

Malkovich grins and pumps hands as Buck, who’s insecure as can be; every setback is a major disaster when you’re clinging tightly to something that may already have slipped away (those 61 appearances on Johnny Carson’s show were a long time ago). But there’s a true old-fashioned charm both to Buck’s act and to McGinly’s film, which zips through at a steady clip and only really suffers when its score intrudes. 

But as engaging as Hanks is, and as well as Malkovich plays cranky old Buck, the movie comes most to life when Emily Blunt turns up as Valerie, who’s filling in for Buck’s publicist. She breezes in, casual and competent and certain of herself, a thoroughly modern New York woman on a weekend bender to a different time.  In the end, her efficient efforts will do more for the young and undecided than the old and practiced, but that’s OK; this is a movie about doing what you love and loving what you do, and if that’s a familiar tune, it’s still a pretty good one when the right people are singing it.

The Great Buck Howard opens Friday, April 24, at the Bijou. 



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