More like 'The Mediocre Buck Howard.'
It's hard to write about a movie that is so middle ground. But I'll give it a shot.
'The Great Buck Howard' is the autobiographical story of the film's writer-director Sean McGinly. As a young man, Sean McGinly was a magician's assistant to The Amazing Kreskin, who made innumerable appearances on Johnny Carson's 'Tonight Show.' In the film, The Amazing Kreskin has undergone a mystical transformation into The Great Buck Howard.
Colin Hanks plays the McGinly role, a young man, bored with law school, who decides that he wants to figure out his life via real world experience. Answering an ad in the paper for an assistant to a celebrity, he instead gets The Great Buck Howard, played with much pizzazz by the great John Malkovich. Howard is now an aged and out-of-touch star, relegated to playing small auditoriums in Podunk towns across middle America.
Buck is on the cusp of his greatest 'effect' (as he calls them) ever - a mass hypnotism of hundreds of people. Buck feels that this will rejuvenate his career and put him in the spotlight, where he rightfully deserves to be. To help with the stunt, the PR people send in a specialist (played by the always adorable Emily Blunt). And then something… goes wrong.
It goes wrong in the narrative and it goes wrong in the movie. It feels like the climax happens a good forty minutes before the movie is over. The film had been happily plodding along up until this point, but now, faced with a premature ending, it fumbles. What had been an innocuous-enough comedy up until this point becomes painful and prolonged.
Even Malkovich's inner magic seems to dull by the movie's conclusion. While he does "ego-maniacal blowhard" better than just about anyone else, trapping his intensity in a PG-rated comedy seems at odds. One longs for the freer, sharper, more profane characterization he's able to bring to more edgy work, like last year's underrated Coen Brothers comedy 'Burn After Reading.'
Colin Hanks, too, lacks much of his father's wit while retaining all of Tom's milquetoast inoffensiveness. He just sort of is. And while his bemused reaction shots work more than they fail, he seems to be sleepwalking through the role, far removed from his more engaged and passionate turn in the great and unfairly forgotten 'Orange County.'
Overall, 'The Great Buck Howard' is just a bland, middle-of-the-road comedy that features some great actors doing less-than-great work, and a story that you'll most likely forget before the movie's even over. Still, as a rental you could do worse, just don't expect to be blown away. 'The Great Buck Howard' is decidedly less than magical.
Simply put: this is an ugly transfer.
The movie looks like it was made for what most people spend on lunch, but that doesn't mean the MPEG-4 AVC 1080p (1.85: 1 aspect ratio) transfer has to look so lousy.
It's just a flat, washed-out, sun-bleached transfer that is, at times, almost shockingly awful-looking. There are some somewhat impressive shots when Malkovich takes the stage (theatricality is favored over the mundane in this transfer), but those moments are few and far between and not enough to rescue this transfer.
There is a constant stream of grain and noise, which does much to obscure the image. Colors fail to get through the overall murkiness of the transfer, and black levels failed to make an impression. This is a crummy little movie that has a crummy little transfer.
And the most shocking part of this whole 'video' aspect of the movie? That it was shot by none other than Tak Fujimoto, responsible for some of the most visually dazzling movies in recent memory - 'Badlands,' 'Silence of the Lambs,' 'That Thing You Do,' 'Sixth Sense,' and 'Breach.'
You'd think they would have treated the man's work with more respect.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track doesn't fare much better.
It's a dialogue driven film, so things are very front-and-center with this mix, with very little separation or moments where the surround channels are utilized. Also, the score is a dinky instrumental that also fails to make much of an impression.
The dialogue, at the very least, is clear and crisp. (You won't have to rewind to try and understand what they're saying.) And, I suppose, this is something. But those looking for an aggressive, dynamic mix should look elsewhere… anywhere else, really.
There's also a Dolby Digital English mix provided, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.
It should be noted that this disc is region free.
I suppose you could do worse for a feel-good Friday night rental. Other than that, with poor AV quality and a humdrum selection of special features, 'The Great Buck Howard' is anything but great. Give it a rent. Then return it, quickly.