Sunday, July 26, 2009

Movie Log: The Great Buck Howard

The Great Buck Howard is a movie that feels like it's missing a reel -- well, not one whole reel, but it does feel like it should have a few more scenes to pull everything together and make it all cohere.

It's a pleasant movie that can't decide who its main character is. It starts with a young man, Troy (Colin Hanks), who isn't quite sure what he wants to do with life but has just become sure that law school isn't what he wants. Troy wanders to LA in a vague attempt to "write," then -- when he realizes that he actually needs a job to keep him going -- answers an ad to become the road manager and general factotum for "The Great Buck Howard" (John Malkovich). And then Howard mostly takes over the movie -- though it's not his story at all, since he doesn't change, and his arc is pretty flat. But he dominates the scenes between the two of them -- as would be expected -- and also the scenes he isn't in. And Troy's voice and presence isn't strong enough to overcome the Buck-ization of the movie.

Howard is a moderately veiled version of the The Amazing Kreskin, a mentalist who used to be reasonably big -- lots of appearances on The Tonight Show in the Johnny Carson days; long stints in Vegas; the usual -- but has settled into a routine of half-empty halls in third-rate cities, doing the same corny act night after night across the country. He's demanding and finicky, but Troy learns how to handle him. There are the usual small triumphs and set-backs leading up to the huge triumph and set-back (or vice versa); the structure of The Great Buck Howard could have come right out of a screenwriting seminar.

So The Great Buck Howard is nearly a road-show My Favorite Year, down to the new love the young man finds along the way. But both the movie and Troy are less focused; Troy's ambitions aren't clearly defined -- does he want to become a screenwriter? is this the movie that he wrote about his life? -- and Buck Howard has a mostly episodic structure, with episodes of unfortunately very different lengths. It should be a movie about how Troy turned into whoever it is that he's going to turn into, but it's more about how he hung out with this weird old guy for a while and came to like him.

There are lots and lots of solid actors in secondary roles -- you can see a line of them on the box cover, though none of those guys share a scene with each other, or with much of anyone but Hanks Jr. and Malkovich -- and the whole movie is pleasant and professional. But, like Oakland, when you reach the end, there really wasn't a there there.

Listening to: Midwest Dilemma - Damage Is Done
via FoxyTunes

No comments:

Post a Comment