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Blu-Ray : Give it a Rent
Ranking:
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Release Date: July 21st, 2009 Movie Release Year: 2008

The Great Buck Howard

Overview -

Once upon a time, Buck Howard spent his days in the limelight. His mind-boggling feats as a mentalist extraordinaire - not to be confused with those of a mere magician - earned him a marquee act in Vegas and 61 appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In his own humble opinion, his talents go far beyond simple sleight of hand - he can read minds and hypnotize not just a single soul but an entire room of people! But nowadays, it's clear to everyone but Buck that his act has lost its luster; he performs in faded community centers and hasn't sold out a theater in years. Yet, with a hearty handshake and a trademark "I love this town!" Buck Howard perseveres, confident in his own celebrity, convinced his comeback is imminent. He just needs a new road manager and personal assistant. As it turns out, recent law school drop-out and unemployed, would-be writer Troy Gable needs a job and a purpose. Working for the pompous, has-been mentalist fills the former requirement, but how it satisfies the latter is questionable, especially to his father, who still assumes Troy is in law school. Nonetheless, with the aid of a fiery publicist and a bold stroke of fate, Buck surprisingly lands back into the American consciousness, taking Troy along for the ride of his life. As the coveted spotlight again shines on the great Buck Howard, Buck becomes the unlikeliest of teachers as Troy learns a few tricks he couldn't possibly have picked up in law school.

OVERALL:
Give it a Rent
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG 4
Length:
87
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
Dolby Digital Audio English
Subtitles/Captions:
Spanish
Special Features:
Featurettes
Release Date:
July 21st, 2009

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

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.

Video Review

Ranking:

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.

Audio Review

Ranking:

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.

Special Features

Ranking:

It should be noted that this disc is region free.

  • Commentary with Writer-Director Sean McGinly and Colin Hanks This is a laid back track that, while marginally fun, really isn't worth a listen. This is especially true because Colin Hanks is one of the commentary's participants as well as the lead actor, who provides an excessive amount of voice over narration, leading to a bit of confusion. McGinly was an assistant to the Amazing Kreskin and it's funny to hear how much his life parallels his fictionalized version. Still, not really worth a listen.
  • Deleted Scenes (720, 3:02) This brief collection of scenes replaces some connective tissue (including a cameo by a current "SNL" cast member) with some of the scenes, but beyond that it's pretty forgettable.
  • Extended Scenes (SD, 9:40) Again - fairly disposable and far too long. It's mostly composed of extended talk show segments from late in the movie. It's cool to see Malkovich ad lib, but really, this is for die hard fans only.
  • Outtakes (SD, 3:39) This is mainly John Malkovich going bonkers and other actors trying (and failing) to keep a straight face. While it's not as amusing as you'd think it would be, it's still pretty funny and I actually laughed out loud a couple of times, which I can't say for the actual movie.
  • Behind the Scenes (SD, 9:35) This is your boiler plate talking heads EPK - stars, director, and Kreskin all interviewed. Skip it.
  • HDNet Look at 'Buck Howard' (720, 4:27) This is fairly redundant, since many of the same interviews (or interviews so shockingly similar they appear to be the same) appear in the aforementioned Behind the Scenes feature.
  • The Amazing Kreskin (SD, 5:46) This is the fabled magician talking about his life on the road, the similarities between himself and the Great Buck Howard, and his former assistant turned writer-director Sean McGinly.

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.