Among the many films that are released each year we are treated to some huge blockbusters. One this week out on DVD will no doubt be WATCHMEN. But while that movie may be the most sought after film, it will also leave many behind who won't get to the store in time for their copy. So instead, why not take a risk and watch something a bit more human, a bit more funny and a bit more sad. Why not watch THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD?
If you've never heard nor seen this film don't be surprised. As I said, blockbusters tend to take up space in the multiplexes around the country where an 18 screen complex offers only 4 films at a time. If you have HDNet, you may have caught it on the premier night it ran. If not, do so now.
Colin Hanks stars as Troy Gable, a young student in college studying to be a lawyer not because he loves it or sees himself having a future here but because his father has sent him here. Realizing he has no desire to live this life, he takes off and heads to LA and begins searching for a job. This results in his meeting the Great Buck Howard, now in search of a new road manager.
Buck Howard (John Malkovich) is a low level celebrity on the down side of life. At one time a notable performer who was featured on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times, he now finds himself playing regional theaters to half packed audiences. But at least these people are fans, those who recall his glory days and now have that moment to bask in the glow of this celebrity who has come to their lives.
Buck is a strange character. A mentalist with a touch now and then of magic, Buck is hard on his staff of one but loving of his crowd when on stage. Until a few take things into their own hand in one instance throwing off his game a bit. But Buck genuinely loves performing for these people and he does so stupendously, always ending with his signature trick where he has someone hide his fee for the night and then returns to the stage to locate it in the audience.
But even though he is the character centered in the title, the story is more about Troy than it is Buck. Troy is at that time in his life where he's trying to decide what he wants to do. He wants to be a writer but with little life experience, he finds himself gaining more and more as he travels with Buck from town to town. He sees Buck's ups and downs, his dealing with overindulgent fans, uninterested media types and many who have forgotten him.
Into Troy and Buck's life comes Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt), a press agent sent out to handle Buck and a special event he has planned in an attempt to once again get into the spotlight. Valerie and Troy become romantically involved but catastrophe looms around the corner as Buck begins to place over 300 people into a trance at once. Unfortunately he's doing so in Cincinnati and at the same time Jerry Springer is involved in an accident. When the moment comes, no one is there to see it.
But word slowly gets out after Buck collapses and he suddenly becomes big once more. One recalls that Huey Lewis lyric "It's hip to be square". Buck suddenly finds himself on TV shows, being lured by Vegas and finally having the chance to go on The Tonight Show once again. But his rise leads to a decline as well and we are left to wonder what will happen to the Great Buck Howard? And what will become of Troy and Valerie as well?
Tons of celebrities make cameos in this coming of age tale including Regis and Kelly, Martha Stewart, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Tom Arnold, Conan O'Brien, George Takei and Tom Hanks (Colin's real life father) as Troy's father, the man who wants him in law school at any costs. And each scene with these celebs comes off as real and genuine, a testament to all actors involved, especially Malkovich.
This movie may not be the big blockbuster release of the week. But it is a film that will entertain and delight that those of us who recall the great days of Carson's Tonight Show will enjoy. Of note, the film (at least the stage work) is based on the Amazing Kreskin who director/writer Sean McGinley worked for as road manager. His love shines through in the character of Buck Howard. And I dare anyone to walk away from this film not feeling the same affection for a little known celebrity on the outs trying to work his way back in.