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The Great Buck Howard (2008)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/21/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/26/2009


Looking back, one of the best parts of being a young movie fan was how objective I was. I would watch nearly any movie with no discrimination, especially when it was something which wasn't aimed at children. Getting HBO allowed me to see all kinds of movies, many of which were things that I normally wouldn't have gone out of my way to see. Doing this, I saw many little, simple movies which didn't use violence or explosions to impress. This happens all too rarely today, despite the fact that home video allows us such freedom in choosing movies. That's why I'm glad that The Great Buck Howard arrived on my doorstep.

John Malkovich stars in The Great Buck Howard as the titular character, a "mentalist" who was very popular in the 1960s and 70s (He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times). Today, Buck's popularity has waned greatly, but he still tours regularly and plays to half-packed houses. However, in his mind, he's as popular as ever and doesn't understand why people don't recognize him. Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) is a law-student who is very unhappy with his life. Despite the fact that he had other career interests, his father (Tom Hanks) pressured him into pursuing law. Feeling smothered, Troy quits school and answers a want ad to be Buck's road manager. Soon, Troy finds himself pulled into Buck's world. While Buck is often demanding and cranky, Troy is fascinated by his air of self-delusion and the fact that he truly can charm audiences. When Buck decides that he wants to gain more exposure, publicist Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) joins the tour. Can these two young people help this show-business dinosaur find popularity again?

The Great Buck Howard is an interesting mixture of the familiar and the surprising. This has to do with the fact, as one can glean from the above synopsis, that the movie tells the story of two very different men. Troy's story is a fish-out-of-water tale, as he dives into show business and finds himself saddled with the bewildering Buck Howard, and we are along for the ride. Like Troy, we don't know who Buck Howard is either, and we discover his pros and cons as the story progresses. While the story certainly didn't feel stale or rehashed, we've seen plots like this before. Troy is the naif released into the wild, and that wild just happens to be second-tier performances theaters all around the U.S.

And then we have Buck's story. Again, we've seen plenty of movies with washed-up performers. However, these films are often depressing dramas where we watch a once great star fall from grace. (Just check out The Wrestler for a good examples of this.) But, The Great Buck Howard isn't a depressing drama -- far from it. What makes this movie unique is Buck's mixture of self-delusion and positive attitude. Yes, he can be narcissistic and self-centered (see the scene where Valerie becomes the center of attention), but his old fashioned "the show must go on" attitude is infectious. On the one hand, we pity Buck, because he clearly isn't as popular as he thinks he is, but he also loves what he does and this makes him fun to watch.

The engaging story aside, it's the cast which really makes this movie tick. Malkovich has proven time and time again that he can play many moods, but it's rare that we see him as goofy as he is at times here. His Buck is often a whirlwind of emotions, and it's great to see the often restrained actor on stage yelling "Isn't that wild?" during his act. Colin Hanks (who looks more and more like his father everyday) is great in his role, where he's called upon to be the victim of Malkovich's energy. Like his Dad, Hanks has a natural likeability which turns into comedy or subdued charm, depending on the scene. The movie also features a great number of cameos, including nearly every major talk show host.

Given that it went from a limited theatrical engagement to HDNet Movies to Blu-ray Disc, it's easy to understand why The Great Buck Howard could have flown under your radar. But, if you like understated, but still thoroughly entertaining films with quirky characters, then this is certainly worth checking out.

The Great Buck Howard guesses our number on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, although it does show some slight visible grain at times. There are no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and while they are never overwhelming or unrealistic, the movie doesn't shy away from bold colors. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of details is good, and the depth is about average. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The sound is very clean and the stereo effects are nicely done. While there isn't much in the way of subwoofer effects, we get some very nice surround effects from crowd applause and most notably from Buck's introduction.

The Great Buck Howard Blu-ray Disc has several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director Sean McGinly and Colin Hanks. The Disc contains 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. These are all brief, but one does feature Saturday Night Live's Casey Wilson. There are also 5 EXTENDED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. All of these are simply longer versions of Buck's publicity tour, and we get some good stuff here with John Stewart and Conan O'Brien. The Disc has a 4-minute reel of OUTTAKES, which actually play more like alternate takes. "Behind the Scenes" (10 minutes) is a fairly basic making-of which offers comments from the cast and McGinly, who discuss the characters and the story, and some on-set footage. "HDNet" A Look at The Great Buck Howard" (4 minutes) plays like a shorter version of "Behind the Scenes" with more of a focus on Colin Hanks. We get an interview with a real "mentalist" in "The Amazing Kreskin" (6 minutes).

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long