Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG for language and suggestive remarks
Run Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
I wish there were more movies like “Buck Howard”; simply effortless and earnest.
Troy Gabel (Colin Hanks) is toiling away at law school and hating every minute. Despite his dad’s objections he does what any self-respecting twenty-something would do – quits school and decides to become a writer. Cliché!
Until that Great American Novel is published Troy needs to eat, and inexplicably lands himself a personal assistant gig with famed Kreskin-like mentalist The Great Buck Howard (John Malkovich).
Howard is the classic has-been, an eccentric lounge-lizard playing to half-empty venues in Bakersfield, Leesburg, Willamette and Akron. Despite his pathetic attempts to regain his former glory (sixty-one appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show!) Howard exudes a cheesy timeless charm that audiences -- in particular the blue-haired set -- eat up. Howard is magic onstage; offstage he’s a tyrannical egomaniac refusing to accept the inevitable passage of time.
As Troy squires the deluded diva from one performance to another, with the occasional Gary Coleman benefit thrown in for good measure, the smallest incidents become comic fodder; local small-time publicists basking in Howard’s dimming glow, Howard’s infamous hide-and-seek shtick and even the fading star’s grand hypnotism scheme, a stupid stunt that unaccountably puts him on the map.
“Buck Howard” is refreshingly wholesome; an affectionate and even nostalgic tale with an easy narrative sans agenda or guile. Hanks and Malkovich imbue their characters with a comic gravitas that lends itself to spare storytelling and a comfortable yet poignant finale. There’s no business like show-business, amen to that.