NaBloPoMo Day 2. I managed to work the “sweet” theme in…
Matt and I adventured to Living Room Theater to see The Great Buck Howard. I didn’t know anything about the film, but the description sounded intruiging, and just the right light tone we were looking for. It stars John Malkovich, who I often find is annoyingly just shades of the same character on screen, but we still thought we’d give it a go.
Malkovich plays Buck Howard, a washed up stage entertainer as a mentalist. (The character is inspired by real-life mentalist The Amazing Kreskin. The film’s director Sean McGinly was actually Kreskin’s road manager for a while.) A mentalist is kinda like a magician (though he hates being called one) and a hypnotist rolled into one. His claim to fame is that he had appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times. The story follows Buck through the eyes of his new road manager, Troy Gable, played by Colin Hanks (aka son of Tom, both in real-life and in this film). Troy is a law school drop-out who finds himself sucked into the world of the Great Buck Howard.
Buck and Troy travel his circuit of civic centers in third class cities like Bakersfield and Akron. Despite his corny and outdated performance style, Buck still enthralls the audiences, especially with his signature finale. The “effect” (what one might call a trick or an gimmick, but with mentalist, you just write things off as fake) is this: Buck enlists two audience members to hide the cash that he’s receiving for the gig somewhere in the theater. He enlists another two volunteers who stay with Buck and his entourage backstage in the Green Room while it’s being hidden to ensure that he is not cheating. Once the money is hidden, Buck returns and somehow, someway, always sniffs out that wad of cash.
The trajectory of the film moves toward Buck’s big new effect, which he insists will be the impetus for comeback he’s been waiting for. I won’t give it away, but I will say that the end is both predictable and not.
I loved John Malkovich in this. He creates such an interesting, specific and empathetic character in the guise of a diva buffoon. In his shiny suits and gawdy sunglasses, Buck has these hilarious mannerisms, such as an overly vigorous handshake and his constant demonstrative declarations, “I love this town!”
Overall, I found both the writing and the performances to be quite good. Colin Hanks is extremely likable, Emily Blunt is capable, Steve Zahn is wonderful as an overzealous Cincinnati “groupie.” Tom Hanks even makes an appearance, albeit, a rather forgettable one as the senior Gable. There are also lots of other fun cameos from the likes of David Blaine, Jon Stewart, Griffin Dunne and others.
If you’re looking for a sweet, interesting character comedy, I would check it out. And if you see it at Portland’s Living Room Theater, I would also recommend the chocolate cake with peanut butter cream icing. Yum.