Film Reviews

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD

By • Mar 20th, 2009 •

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THE AMAZING KRESKIN

The closing night film at the 2008 Cinevegas Film Festival was THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD. Writer-director Sean McGinly spent 4 months working for mentalist The Amazing Kreskin in the early 90’s and based THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD on that experience. I know The Amazing Kreskin. Without fail, we get an impressive Christmas card from Kreskin every year. Buck Howard is a hilarious, spot-on and rather touching portrayal.

In May 2002, we had lunch with Kreskin in Las Vegas and were invited to a pre-opening, private performance. Kreskin was appearing nightly for a month at The Silverton Hotel Showroom. It was the first time I had seen Kreskin’s show and he was indeed amazing. Along with giving out free copies of his newest book, “The Amazing Kreskin’s Future With The Stars”, to everyone in the casino’s lobby, we all got signed copies of Kreskin’s head shot.

On June 6, after his show, Kreskin promised a spectacular event. He would bring down UFOs. We drove out to a field behind The Silverton. It was like a Fourth of July gathering. Everyone was drinking beer and blasting rock and roll. Lounge chairs were up. If he failed and UFOs did not appear, Kreskin promised to donate $50,000 of his own money to a charity.

A friend of mine, Chuck Walker (pictured), had flown in from New York to make his own film of the event.

A stage was set up for Kreskin. He produced a white handkerchief, dramatically waved it around, and let it fall to the ground. He did this several times. This was the induction cue for the pre-chosen. As the white handkerchief dropped, the UFOs would appear.

I didn’t see any UFOs but Kreskin was a fiery force of energy. It was as if we were at a charismatic healing tent revival. Later that night, the local news showed film of something appearing in the sky. The crowd had left by then.

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD

After leaving law school without informing his tuition-paying parents, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) accepts a job as The Great Buck Howard’s (John Malkovich) assistant. Troy doesn’t have a clue who Buck Howard is – he’s a relic of 61 appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He’s a world famous mentalist who is a self-anointed diva. He’s a diva because his no-where, not-here Middle America audiences adore him. And he is actually great at what he does. Generously modeled after The Amazing Kreskin, Malkovich is mesmerizing. You see all the exposed, raw layers of Buck Howard.

Instead of bringing down UFOs, Buck’s showstopper is finding his night’s performance fee that has been hidden in the audience.

Troy is the perfect, passive assistant without a trace of disgust for the delusional Buck. (If you are over 80 or haven’t had a hit in 40 years, you still get to play Las Vegas.) These are the most hilarious scenes, with Buck genuinely shocked when he is not treated with reverence.

As Troy goes on the road with Buck and serves as his baggage handler and salad tosser, he meets an L.A. publicist, Valerie (Emily Blunt), who joins them in Cincinnati for Buck’s big comeback. Valerie is Troy’s reality-checker. Buck gloriously succeeds, but the press leaves early. Strangely redeemed, Buck becomes a media sensation again. He goes on all the talk shows. He hates Jay Leno for never booking him. But then another clever plot twist happens.

The dialogue and direction are perfect but the film belongs to Malkovich. When he’s not in a scene you’re wondering what Buck is doing. He inhabits the character of Buck with the skill of a talented actor. He’s fearless, revealing Buck’s psychological failings in every scene. The bruising handshake, the Norma Desmond face of horror at a perceived slight, the cruel treatment of his one-person staff, his outsized arrogance – Malkovich never short-changes the character. Buck expects to be idolized, even if it’s only by the doorman.

And, in a respectful nod to The Amazing Kreskin, McGinly (pictured) does answer one of the two questions that keep coming up: Is Buck gay, and, How does he find his money? Is it a trick?

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2 Responses »

  1. I saw this movie based on your review and really enjoyed the movie. I was the only person laughing, but that didn’t bother me. Thank you very much!!!!

  2. Great recomendation!! I loved the movie!!!

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