Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 14
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD KNOCKS THEM OUT AGAIN: Mentalist Buck Howard (John Malkovich, standing, demonstrates his amazing ability to hypnotize a large group of people simultaneously.

The Great Buck Howard: Malkovich Shines in Character Study of Kreskin-Like Mentalist

Kam Williams

Even though his name is “The Great Buck Howard” instead of “The Amazing Kreskin,” it’s clear who John Malkovich’s character is based on in this bittersweet film. Buck, like Kreskin — who was a frequent guest on the Tonight Show and other popular TV variety programs — is a mentalist long past his glory days. Buck, like Kreskin, also has an usually strong handshake and a stage finale in which he invariably finds a wad of money hidden on a member of the audience.

The movie co-stars Colin Hanks as Troy Gabel, a second year law student. As the movie opens, Troy is dropping out of school without telling his father (Tom Hanks) in order to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Soon forced to face the reality of having to earn a living, Troy applies for a position as the personal assistant to Buck Howard, an entertainment icon who has been reduced to performing in modest half-filled halls in small towns all over the country.

Gone for Buck are the opportunities to appear on late night television and to play posh hotspots on the strip in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that fact hasn’t humbled him one iota, which means Troy is stuck in seedy motels working for a pompous egomaniac.

While Troy is rethinking his decision to work with Buck Howard, his angry father shows up. However, any chance Mr. Gabel has of talking his son into returning to Los Angeles disappears after Buck hires a beautiful assistant named Valerie (Emily Blunt). She and Troy fall for each other at first sight, which makes taking abuse from their boss a lot easier.

The Great Buck Howard was written and directed by Sean McGinly whose unflattering portrait of Howard is a riveting cinematic experience. In the closing credits an acknowledgment is made of Kreskin as a source of inspiration for the movie.

Of course, Mr. Malkovich deserves considerable credit for his compelling performance as a pathetic has-been who has no idea that he’s washed up. Among the members of the supporting cast are Steve Zahn, B.J. Hendricks, Griffin Dunne, and Ricky Jay along with cameos by Gary Coleman, George Takei, and Tom Arnold.

Additionally, the appearance of the father-son duo of Tom and Colin Hanks in the film virtually guarantees that the movie will be a hit with the indie art house crowd.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG for suggestive language and a drug reference. Running time: 90 minutes. Studio: Magnolia Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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