Great Buck Howard, The (2009)

Rated: PG for some language including suggestive remarks, and a drug reference.
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: FB-DC=D-
Budget: Unknown
Box Office: $790,000

Written and Directed by: Sean McGinly, who hasn’t made anything you’ve ever heard of.
Starring: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, and Tom Hanks.

This is a fictionalization of the life of the famous mentalist The Amazing Kreskikn written by the man who was his one-time road manager and displaying the life of a vaudeville-era entertainer struggling to remain relevant in a modern world that no longer cares much about him.

Entertainment Value: F
We nearly quit this movie several times, but we persisted mostly because of the involvement of John Malkovich and Tom Hanks. In the end, despite my hopes that something meaningful might happen, it didn’t. This is meant as an homage to Kreskin, the mentalist who appeared so many times on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but for those of us who only barely remember him, it’s just a strange and not particularly interesting movie about a has-been entertainer who's obnoxious off stage.

Superficial Content: B-
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity B, Violence B, Language B-
There is some alcohol consumption, implied sexuality, and some mild profanity. Oddly, though this movie is PG, the DVD previews were PG-13, so even if you persist in seeing this, be warned that the previews are not for the kids. There is a lot of verbal berating in this movie, though usually without profanity.

Significant Content: D
Don’t just conform to the goals your parents have for you. Do your own thing. It’s better to be the road manager for a small-time entertainer than to do something society puts more value on. Entertainers may be difficult to work with, but that’s because they have trouble reconciling their own internal sense of greatness with being treated as anything less by others.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I’m going to give this movie credit for what it was trying to do, once I understood it. See, the movie doesn’t tell you in advance that this is all about Kreskin, and I only knew because I checked out some of the extra features. Malkovich is always fascinating, and I have the sense that if I knew more about Kreskin, I would probably appreciate this more. Nevertheless, it’s really a study in tragedy, and not a particularly enjoyable one to watch.

Discussion Questions:
~Who decides what’s cool or impressive? If Buck Howard can satisfy a few hundred people in hundreds of American cities with his repetitive schtick, who is to say that’s not impressive?
~Although Kreskin says that the private moments were fictionalized, what do you believe? If he wasn’t like this in private, why would McGinley write it that way? Even if he was, do you think McGinley is writing this with anything other than genuine admiration and affection?
~Troy views the one-time failure of Buck’s talents as evidence that they’re real since only a fake can work 100% of the time. What do you think of this idea?
~Why do you think people want so badly to prove that Kreskin was faking or cheating? Why do so many other people want to believe there’s real skill here? What do you believe? When he tries his signature effect at the end of the movie, what do you want to see happen?
~Why does Troy stay with Buck for so long? Is it better to be in proximity to greatness than to be mediocre all on your own?
~What role does dignity play in this movie? Does Troy display dignity by enduring Buck’s abuse? Does Buck display dignity in how he reacts to his treatment by the Leno experience? How much is Valerie motivated by her sense of dignity? How much of Troy’s dad’s worldview is defined by his notions of dignity? How important is your dignity to you? What is the Christian perspective on dignity?
~The movie itself is remarkably unglitzy, rather like Buck’s act. Would the movie have been improper if it had tried to make a glossier version of this portrayal of a relatively unglossy person?
Overall Grade: D-
There are some interesting ideas about performance and show business, but unless you are really a big fan of Kreskin, you won’t enjoy this very slow-moving homage.

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