The Great Buck Howard

The idea of a mainstream one-man show seems to have been diminished to stand-up comedy and little else. With technology reaching a point where everything is scrutinized, magic and illusionist shows have taken a backseat to more flashy, Cirque du Soleil style performances. Buck Howard (John Malkovich), a once famous mentalist who appeared on Johnny Carson’s show 61 times, is stuck trying to keep hold of the fame he savored decades ago in The Great Buck Howard.


At the insistence of his father, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) went to law school and discovered he hated it. After making the decision to leave school and gain experience searching for what he likes, Troy begins working for Buck. Howard is on a mission to revitalize his career and reach the modern audience with an exciting, new trick. Emily Blunt co-stars as Howard’s public relations representative Valerie Brennan.

            The film starts with a highly quirky style that is a little overbearing when thinking about the next hour and a half, but it settles down into a fun, lighthearted flow. There is a good combination – and chemistry – between the Troy and Buck stories. Troy is trying to find his passion and Buck is trying to save his. Malkovich always plays an interesting person, and this time is no different. Buck has quirks – I’m never shaking his hand for fear of a shoulder dislocation – and he is never-endingly stubborn, but he is a genuine performer who enjoys the small towns and like-minded people, which gives him a more humane nature and likable fashion despite his treatment of others.

The inclusion of Valerie is generally unnecessary, but provides a nice wrinkle to the story as Troy’s love interest and a sort of reality check for him and Buck. Blunt does well to hide her accent and keep her character edgy but amiable, and other side characters, such as Steve Zahn and Adam Scott, are entertaining and keep the film going even with very temporary roles. Colin Hanks gets the benefit of working with his real-life father to help evoke the disappointed dynamic felt between father and son.

            Some people will find the film’s plot insignificant and irrelevant. There is no doubting it is not for everyone with such a polarizing character in Buck, but it is definitely worth a viewing to see someone slowly coming to terms with his vanishing marketability. Buck’s show is garnering less and less demand and he is as emphatic about performing, as he was when he started. Troy struggles with trying to balance working for such an eccentric man and pitying him for what he cannot see. The progression of their relationship is definitely the most interesting part of the film – along with figuring out Buck Howard’s final trick.

There is nothing especially amazing about The Great Buck Howard, but there is nothing especially bad either. Most will finish with a sense of “well that was cute” and move on without a second thought. It’s perfect for this site as a film to just lazily watch one night and fall asleep afterwards.

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