“The Great Buck Howard”
Bristol Bay Productions/Magnolia Pictures
At the Michigan Theater

2.5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes a film comes along that can amuse an audience with just a little bit of everything (a few laugh-worthy moments, a few sighs in the theater), but ultimately has no lofty ambitions to transcend its predictability. A ripple in the ocean of cinema, “The Great Buck Howard” ends, as T.S. Eliot might say, “not with a bang but a whimper.”

The plot follows a young law school dropout named Troy (Colin Hanks, “King Kong”), who takes a job as an assistant to the Great Buck Howard (John Malkovich, “Burn After Reading”), a washed-up mentalist who seems to be ignorant of his own shameful state. In spite of Troy’s initial misgivings, which stem primarily from Buck’s volatility, he perseveres and eventually witnesses Buck’s resurgence to fame by way of an awe-provoking spectacle.

Though a comedy shouldn’t be expected to resort to ridiculous measures to elicit laughter, the movie doesn’t make much of an effort at comedy at all, nor does it succeed in its attempt to adhere to the “inspirational” genre. In fact, the only cinematic aspect that even seems to indicate a moment’s significance is the film’s accompanying score.

One need look no further than the production credits to see why the movie feels so familiar and overwrought. The film is produced by Tom Hanks, Colin Hanks’s real-life father (Tom even cameos as Colin’s father in the story). If you’ve seen “Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile” or “Forrest Gump,” expect this movie to be nothing more than a diluted version of these landmark productions, with the all-too-familiar voiceover to boot. Colin Hanks plays his role satisfactorily, but does not venture beyond the constraints of the film or forge his own individual personality as a character. It’s unfortunate he didn’t take advantage of his prominent role and showcase his acting talent.

In spite of the movie’s prominent flaws, the weight of the film’s redundancy is countered by the superb theatrical abilities of its lead performer, John Malkovich. His obnoxious elitism manifests itself vividly onscreen to inject life and humor into what otherwise may have been a deadpan disappointment. Malkovich’s personality undergoes a seamless transition from the real world to the big screen whenever he appears in a movie; it’s this genuine, raw display of humanity that lends an endearing trademark to many of his films.

Though totally forgettable due to its homogeneity, “The Great Buck Howard” features a landmark performance by John Malkovich that is certainly worth your time. Malkovich proves he can bear the burden of a lead acting role in addition to compensating for the shortcomings of his more inexperienced co-stars. The movie also alludes to Colin Hanks’s potential as an up-and-coming actor, though it certainly won’t assure his stardom. If you’re a fan of the inspirational comedy genre, “The Great Buck Howard” will keep you sufficiently entertained, albeit not amazed.

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