WFF: 'The Great Buck Howard' Is Well, Not So Great...

We hate to throw a small indie film under the bus, but does director Sean McGinly have friends in high places? Or how is it that with actors like John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, Colin Hanks, Tom Hanks, Griffin Dunne and Steve Zahn that a film like “The Great Buck Howard” not able to get off the ground?

First premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, ‘Buck Howard’ is still making the festival rounds *trying to find a distributor and its most recent stop was the Woodstock Film Festival in upstate New York.

The answer to the aforementioned question is because: it’s just not that good. Perhaps the fact that Tom Hanks produced the film or that the script was really good, was the reason why so many name actors were part of the film, but after experiencing the mostly dull, flat and uninspired ‘Buck Howard,’ we’re not surprised to hear it hasn’t been released yet (especially in this economy/indie-film climate; let’s not forget that this film also manages to score cameos on Regis & Kelly, TRL, Conan O’Brien, etc.).

Centering on a hopelessly passe, out-of-touch and totally past his prime magician/ mentalist (the titular character played by a very-hammy Malkovich), the film follows the POV (replete with bad voice over of course) of young Troy Gable (Colin Hanks), a law-student drop-out who ends up taking a job as Howard’s road manager after his existing one (played by Apatow becoming-regular Adam Scott) is unceremoniously fired.

Howard is clueless to his lot in life and has zero idea that his career is at its tail end, but directionless and strapped for cash, Hanks character puts up with his undeserving diva tantrums and demanding behavior because… he’s a wuss? We’re never really sure why his character doesn’t leave immediately. Sure, later on he does develop great sympathy (pity) and affection for the magician in the same way one might develop a strange abusive relationship to a crazy Uncle who used to be famous and now employs you for peanuts, but early on, we’re too assume it’s just cause the character is too ineffectual and in command to say no.

Even Tom Hanks who plays his father (natch) can’t persuade him to leave the comic. It takes a hot junior publicist (Emily Blunt) to see strange potential in the young road manager to instill some courage in him (he half-heartedly mentions he wants to be a writer, she sleeps with him, eggs him on and all of a sudden he wants to pursue a writing career).

The main problem with ‘Howard’ is that it can’t decide if it’s supposed to be a 20-s0mething coming-of-age story for young Hanks or a odd couple relationship story for him and the magician Malkovich, but it fails at either. By the end we’re supposed to ascertain that Hanks learned something from the odd experience of tour managing an goofy and losing psychic, but we’re not sure what exactly. Go your own way? Choose your own destiny in life? Insert cliche here? We learn absolutely nothing about what makes Buck Howard tick other than he genuinely enjoys what he does and entertaining people, but there’s little revealed behind the psychology of it. ‘Howard’ also suffers from any real drama, any real conflict, any deep laughs and anything real at stake. It’s mostly a largely uninteresting film with tepid characters and a bland and stuporous protagonist (the young Hanks) . We’ve been looking forward to this one since Sundance, but the film was largely forgettable. [C]

Music Note
Though it was reported that warbly indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! would be writing the score to the film, it turns out that composer Blake Neely wrote all the music cues to the film and CYHSY just ended up writing a handful of new songs (two at our count; the band is featured twice prominently; once in a bar scene and once in the closing credits). That was half the reason we went too (not that we really like CYHSY that much, but the music-movie obligation). Scenes from the film below if you care.

*My bad: the film was quietly picked up Magnolia in May. The film was scheduled for a fall roll-out, but so far it’s not on the docket anywhere this season so far.