Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you to the greatest mentalist of our time, “The Great Buck Howard.” He’s appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times and counts people like George Takei amongst his closest friends. You might be able to catch him and his amazing live show if you live in a hot, hip city like Bakersfield or Akron, Ohio. In other words, Buck Howard’s best days are behind him. But please, whatever you do, don’t let him know that.
“The Great Buck Howard” is also the name of a clever and witty new comedy from writer/director Sean McGinly. In it, we meet the aforementioned washed-up mentalist Buck Howard who is played perfectly and hilariously by John Malkovich. We’re introduced to him through recent law school dropout Troy (Colin Hanks) who, seeking to find out what he wants to do with his life, answers an ad searching for road manager for a celebrity. Before he really has a chance to think it over, Troy is on the road with Buck and as much as the job is a far cry from any kind of true calling, Troy kind of likes it. Sure, Buck is a megalomaniac of the highest order and he’s rude, phony and abusive, but Troy feels an odd bond with the has-been and a loyalty grows.
I really liked this film and it has the same kind of fun pep and energy of “That Thing You Do!” (which is one of my all-time favorite films). Malkovich manages to be as funny as he’s ever been as a character and not in his usual creepy, ironic way. Young Hanks is so-so and the elder Hanks drops in a few times as Troy’s disapproving father but the sparks fly when a New York ad agency sends a sassy and cute ad exec (Blunt) who develops a crush on the idealistic Troy.
On the surface the story is about Buck’s bull in a china factory style in which he never notices the auditoriums are half full and dwindling. Yet there’s also some nice touches here involving the choices one makes in life and being true to yourself. Thankfully Troy only waxes philosophically once and it makes sense when he does, but we still get the point as we watch Buck’s sudden re-emergence and his inability to change who he is, for better or worse. “The Great Buck Howard” is a fine little comedy and a hilarious character study of an ego gone wild. While it certainly doesn’t have blockbuster written all over it, it’s a nice way to get some chuckles and maybe reflect a little on life. Now, go get me a coffee you little punk!