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Sean McGinly
John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn, B.J. Hendricks, Tom Arnold, David Blaine
Writing Credits:
Sean McGinly

Get ready for the comeback of a lifetime.

Troy (Colin Hanks) decides that his career as a lawyer has lost its appeal, so he drops out of school in favor of working for Buck Howard (John Malkovich). But the eponymous mentalist isn't the celebrity he used to be, and Hollywood and Vegas just don't call like they used to, making everyone question Troy's decision. Tom Hanks produces and makes an appearance as Troy's father.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$115.004 thousand on 55 screens.
Domestic Gross
$748.363 thousand.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 7/14/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Sean McGinly and Actor Colin Hanks
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Outtakes
• “Behind the Scenes” Featurette
• “HDNet: A Look at The Great Buck Howard” Featurette
• “The Amazing Kreskin” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Great Buck Howard (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2009)

In the spirit of My Favorite Year, 2009’s The Great Buck Howard looks at the relationship between an aging entertainer and his young assistant. Buck Howard (John Malkovich) once boasted a great career as a popular mentalist. However, that was years ago, and now Buck’s essentially a has-been.

Though this isn’t readily apparent to Buck, who thinks better things are around the corner. To prepare for his anticipated comeback, Buck gets a new road manager/personal assistant: law school dropout/aspiring writer Troy Gable (Colin Hanks). Taken from Troy’s point of view, we follow Buck on his planned path to show biz redemption.

Here’s the question of the day: would Hanks have a career if his dad wasn’t one of the world’s biggest stars? I don’t mean that to sound catty or harsh, but I’ve seen the younger Hanks in a few projects and I can’t get over just how faceless he seems.

Actually, he does have a face, and it’s one that looks quite a lot like his father’s. Unfortunately, Colin Hanks totally lacks his pop’s charisma and personality. While Tom could’ve infused some life and spark into the role, Colin manages to infuse the part with… nothing. He feels like a bland vanilla version of his dad; Hanks doesn’t embarrass himself in the part, but he’s a total cipher who makes no impression on the audience. Even when he’s onscreen, you forget he’s there.

Granted, Troy is supposed to be a pretty low-key character, and the fact that the film surrounds Hanks with so many charismatic talents makes it tougher to shine. That said, I can’t imagine that his dad would’ve seemed so blah in the same part. In the hands of a more dynamic actor, Troy would’ve been more compelling while still remaining true to the character.

The younger Hanks’ shortcomings seem even more apparent in the scenes that feature his father. On paper, the idea of casting Tom and Colin as father and son sounds good, and if both presented reasonably similar levels of talent, their sequences would’ve been strong. This conceit has worked in the past, such as in Wall Street with Charlie and Martin Sheen.

Unfortunately, the sight of the two Hanks boys just reinforces Colin’s lack of personality. When he squares off with his dad, all I can think is how much better the movie would be if a younger Tom played Troy. The film loses too much sparkle when we have to deal with Colin, and since he’s essentially the main character, we’re stuck with him a lot.

Despite Colin Hanks’ forgettable performance, Howard entertains, largely because it boasts such a great cast the rest of the time. In addition to Malkovich and Tom Hanks, many other notables show up here, and they add verve to the piece. We also find a long roster of “D”-level stars willing to poke fun at themselves; how can I dislike a movie that features Bill “Ray J. Johnson” Saluga?

Malkovich does very well as Buck. On the surface, he doesn’t seem like the right person for this kind of role; Malkovich always did best with quirky weirdos, not backslapping show biz sorts. Nonetheless, Malkovich thoroughly entertains as Buck, and his inherent oddness works for the part. After all, Buck is a mentalist, not a lounge singer, so some degree of strangeness makes sense.

Howard can’t quite decide if it’s a love letter to faded celebrities who still slog away or if it’s a poisoned note, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. Too much sappy sentimentality would have robbed the film of its humor and edge, but too much cynicism and nastiness would’ve made it mean-spirited and charmless. By the end, it becomes clear that the filmmakers admire the show biz lifers who never give up, but the movie doesn’t devolve into a bland lovefest.

It does lose its way in the third act, when it rushes to get to its finish, though. I don’t want to throw out spoilers, so I won’t discuss story specifics. Suffice it to say that the movie throws out a lot of character development and action into an insufficient amount of town. The film goes off the rails a bit because it feels too rushed and abbreviated.

Still, even with a mix of flaws, Howard left me with a smile. With a generally excellent cast, a fun premise, and the right blend of cynicism and adoration, the movie manages to create a likeable, amusing show biz tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

The Great Buck Howard appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the movie remained perfectly watchable, the transfer never excelled.

Sharpness varied. Most shots demonstrated good delineation, but more than a few exceptions occurred. Wide shots tended to be somewhat soft and fuzzy, so they created occasional distractions. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but edge enhancement cropped up through the film; I noticed mild haloes a fair amount of the time. The flick also tended to be a bit grainy, but other source flaws failed to appear.

Colors looked fairly ordinary. The image took on a golden tone much of the time, but the image stayed with a pretty natural impression. The hues seemed acceptable but they weren’t particularly strong. Blacks appeared reasonably dark and tight, while shadows showed decent delineation; some low-light shots were a bit too thick, though. All of this was good enough for a mediocre “C”.

I also thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Howard remained unexceptional, though it worked better than the visuals. Of course, I didn’t expect a dazzling soundfield from this sort of comedy, and I got exactly what I anticipated. In terms of effects, general ambience ruled the day. Surround usage stayed limited; the back speakers gently fleshed out various settings but did little more than that.

In those forward channels, the music provided nice stereo separation and opened up the mix reasonably well. There wasn’t a whole lot of activity or movement, but the effects conveyed a passable sense of space and place. The track functioned appropriately for the story.

Audio quality appeared fine. The music was the strongest aspect of the track, as the score showed nice vivacity and impact. Dialogue was consistently warm and natural. Effects were a minor component of the mix, and they seemed appropriately subdued and accurate; there wasn’t much to hear, but the various elements were clean and distinct. This was a standard “comedy mix” and became a decent reproduction of the material.

When we head to the set’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from writer/director Sean McGinly and actor Colin Hanks. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss autobiographical aspects of the film, story and characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, editing, and improvisation.

At its best, the commentary provides a decent look at the film. I really like the bits in which McGinly tells us how the flick connects to his experiences with the Amazing Kreskin, and it’s also fun to hear about outtakes and altered sequences. Unfortunately, the track comes with a fair amount of dead air, so it drags at times. Still, there’s enough good content to make it worthwhile.

Cut footage shows up in the next three areas. We look at three Deleted Scenes(3:03), five Extended Scenes (9:44) and three Outtakes (3:39). Nothing major happens in the “Deleted Scenes”, but they’re fun, especially when Buck deals with a chipper driver in Florida.

The “Extended Scenes” add to the TV show appearances briefly glimpsed in the final cut. Clearly they would’ve made the movie too long, but it’s cool to get to see them in their extended form. As for the “Outtakes”, they offer alternate versions of existing clips. Nothing spectacular emerges, but they’re also entertaining.

Behind the Scenes runs nine minutes, 35 seconds and features McGinly, Hanks, producer Gary Goetzman, and actors John Malkovich and Emily Blunt. The program looks at story and characters, cast and performances, bringing the project to the screen, and some production details. Don’t expect a lot from “Scenes”, as it’s a pretty superficial look at the flick.

A promotional program shows up via the four-minute, 27-second HDNet: A Look at The Great Buck Howard. It provides notes from Hanks, Malkovich and Blunt. “Look” is even more promo-oriented than “Scenes”. It just recaps the characters and stories, so it turns into nothing more than an extended trailer.

We end with The Amazing Kreskin. In this five-minute, 47-second featurette, we hear from mentalist Kreskin as he discusses his career and his reaction to the movie. Kreskin was the real-life inspiration for Buck, so it’s fun to hear from him.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Mutant Chronicles, Big Man Japan, Food, Inc. and HDNet. No trailer for Howard appears here.

While it suffers from one bad casting choice and some pacing issues, The Great Buck Howard succeeds for one simple reason: it’s fun. It boasts a mostly great cast and keeps us engaged during its amusing ride. The DVD provides mediocre picture, decent audio and an acceptable collection of supplements. Howard turns into a charming and enjoyable flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
1 3:
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