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The Great Buck Howard

A young man gives up his father's dream of becoming a lawyer in order to become the road manager for an over-the-hill mentalist. In the process he learns that pursuing your dreams is sometimes more important than achieving them. Starring John Malkovich with a cameo appearance by Tom Hanks and his son.

John Malkovich flexes his comedic super powers in this very funny movie loosely modeled after the life of 'The Amazing Kreskin'. Directed by Sean McGinly, 'The Great Buck Howard' starts by describing Troy's early childhood, in which his dreams of becoming either an astronaut, fireman, racecar driver (or anything else) is vetoed by his father's wish that he become a lawyer.

After the credits finish rolling we see Troy in a legal exam, finishing early, and then quietly saying, "I don't want to do this." He drops out of law school and decides to find his calling. In the process he finds a classified ad for a road manager, and decides to try for an interview.

From the moment Troy is exposed to the character of Buck Howard (Malkovich), he realizes that although he's abrasive, preening and sometimes rather stupid, there's some indefinable quality about him that makes him likeable. And Malkovich is hysterical as Howard, whose tired, homey, downright cheesy act is so beloved by small towns all across the country. He's huge in Akron, Ohio. Malkovich imbues Henry with social ticks that should be funny only on the first viewing, but instead become increasingly funny as they are repeated.

For example, Henry shakes everyone's hand as though he were fighting a boa constrictor; Henry's arm and the 'shakees' arm become an undulating sine wave. Whenever Howard takes the stage, he throws both arms up and declares, "I love this town!" Behind the scenes Howard is fussy, petulant, arrogant and sometimes charming.

The Great Buck Henry: "You rented me a mini-van to bring me to the show?!"

Ignore Colin Hanks, Ignore Him, Ignore Him!!!

Troy manages to handle Howard's mood swings and tantrums and helps him make it back to the big time in Las Vegas. Troy (Colin Hanks) is not particularly interesting, and there's a romantic subplot between him and a female PR agent that has no sizzle whatsoever, so just ignore him and focus on the film's strongest suit -- Malkovich engaging in a fantastic character study.

Eventually Troy realizes that he likes Howard because no matter how hackneyed or corny his routine might be he's pursuing his dream and that demands respect. Whether Howard makes it in Vegas or not isn't the point. Howard has one 'effect' (they're not 'tricks'!) in his repetoire that Troy calls Howard's 'moment' and it's the dramatic focal point of the film -- at the end of his shows Howard takes his entire fee for the event (a wad of money the size of a ham, usually) and hides it with someone in the audience. He then uses his psychic abilities to find the person and get his money. Troy has never been able to figure out how Howard manages to pull off this 'effect' and wonders whether there will come a day when he fails.

'The Great Buck Howard' feels like Willie Lomax meets 'The Prestige' except without a rival magician and Howard doesn't kill himself. If you can watch Malkovich in anything, you'll love this film.

Movie Rating: 
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