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Movie Review

The Great Buck Howard

MPAA Rating: PG for some language including suggestive remarks, and a drug reference.

Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson

Better than Average
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Primary Audience:
Adults, Teens
1 hr. 27 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
March 20, 2009 (limited—47 theaters)
DVD: July 21, 2009
Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Magnolia Pictures

Magic and magicians in the Bible

Featuring: Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks), Tom Hanks, John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, B.J. Hendricks, Tom Arnold, Jacquie Barnbrook, Ankur Bhatt, Osa Danam, Bubba Da Skitso, Griffin Dunne, Patrick Fischler, Matthew Gray Gubler, Nate Hartley, Matt Hoey, Dale Waddington Horowitz, Ricky Jay, Shane Johnson, Diana Kyle, Wallace Langham, Chene Lawson, David Mehl, P. David Miller, Don Most, Conan O'Brien, Norm O'Neill, Jill Ragan, Franklin Ruehl, Lawrence J. Russo, Terry Scannell, Adam Scott, Kimberly Scott, Lorna Scott, Danica Sheridan, John Stewart, Martha Stewart, Melissa Stone, George Takei, Amy Jo Traicoff, Stacey Travis, Katherine VanderLinden, Max Williams, Casey Rose Wilson, Nate Witty, Wendy Worthington, Steve Zahn
Director: Sean McGinley
Producer: Bristol Bay Productions, Playtone, Great Buck Productions, Marvin V. Acuna, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Steve Shareshian, Ginger Sledge
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

In the early 1970’s, The Amazing Kreskin burst on to TV screens all across North America. Kreskin, an eccentric entertainer was a self proclaimed “mentalist”, who would use illusions, tricks, and some hypnotism in his acts. Between his TV show and numerous appearances on late night talk shows, Kreskin became a household name. While no longer the star he once was, Kreskin still performs his act to this day in small clubs around the country. It’s on the life of The Amazing Kreskin that the film “The Great Buck Howard”, a consistently amusing film starring John Malkovich, is loosely based.

The story follows young Troy Gable (played with natural nuance by Colin Hanks), a law school dropout who has no inclination on what he wants to do with his life. Gable answers an ad in the classified paper to be a personal assistant to a celebrity. The “celebrity” is The Great Buck Howard, a mentalist who’s been in the business for over 30 years. Howard is long past his prime, but won’t let you forget his 60 plus appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, while simultaneously mentioning his disdain for Carson’s successor, Jay Leno (mostly due to the fact Leno has never had him on the show).

It’s this type of humor that permeates the film from start to finish, mainly in the character of Howard, who is equally talented, obsessive, and completely unaware of how he’s no longer famous at all. Gable travels from small town to small town with Howard as he does the same routine for half-filled auditoriums of people who remember Howard from his glory days. While his act is still impressive, Howard is tough to like, because his behaviors can swing from happy to livid, if just one little thing goes wrong. There are several moments when Howard realizes he’s no longer famous, but the moments pass quickly, almost as if Howard knows he must keep living in the bubble he’s created for himself just to survive.

As unbelievable events transpire, Howard finds himself with one more shot to get back on top. Gable, along for the ride, ends up falling in love with a young publicist, finding out a lot about himself and learning some important lessons about life and what’s really valuable.

While the film isn’t laugh out loud funny, it’s consistently humorous in a more subtle manner. This is mainly due to John Malkovich, who does such a wonderful job playing Buck Howard. Malkovich is a very talented actor, and as Buck Howard he goes full bore with the zaniness, and that suits him just fine.

“The Great Buck Howard” is rated PG, but it’s not a children’s movie. While there is no language to speak of, there is an implied sexual relationship between Gable and publicist Valerie (Emily Blunt), and also there is the constant question of Howard’s sexuality. While Howard never acknowledges it, several characters ponder whether or not he is homosexual. This talk is kept to a minimum and all within the realm of a PG rating.

By happenstance, a few weeks ago I caught The Amazing Kreskin on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It’s eerie how similar Malkovich’s Howard is to the real life Kreskin. As the ultimate performer, Howard finally comes to the realization that he does what he does because he loves doing it. It’s a simple lesson, but one that many never learn. It’s the outstanding cast and writing in “The Great Buck Howard”, however, that make the lesson not only simple, but simply memorable.

Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

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Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This was a surprisingly entertaining movie. As usual, Malcovich is superb. Colin Hanks plays a good, quiet, reactive role. I can’t describe why I liked the film, I just did. No bad language, no sex (little kissing), no violence, and no drug or alcohol abuse portrayed. There are a couple of times where people asked if Buck Howard is g*y. But it’s never confimed, and there is NO hint of anything like that in the film. As a Playtone film (Tom Hanks Production Co.), this movie has the same flavor as his others: “That Thing You Do,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Castaway”… all of which were good, fairly-clean movies. Kids and teens may find it slow and boring, but my husband and I enjoyed a few great laughs… the comedy isn’t obvious, but it’s there.

I usually never watch the additional material offered on DVDs, but you’ll want to on this one. You’ll learn about whom this movie is based upon, and how the story came about. It’s worth the time, and it completes the story. Enjoy!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Diana O, age 40 (USA)