Those devotees of "The Tonight Show" starring Johnny Carson will remember the titular character and his cheesy, time-worn "mentalist" act.
The Great Buck Howard stars John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, and Emily Blunt, with Malkovich ripe to the nuances of Buck, sensitively drawn and filled with quicksilver outrageousness.
Writer/director Sean McGinly posits the preening showy guy in various outfits in the more quiet twilight of his career. Smaller crowds of seniors still witness his signature finish, locating his "hidden" take among them in more intimate venues. The light script allows for a larger-than-life character to take off here.
Hanks' Troy Gable is the viewer surrogate personal assistant of someone officious, yet charismatic who leaves law school much to the dismay of his father (real off-screen dad Tom Hanks, a producer here).
His plans for a professional rebirth from Ohio after a piece from a widely-known entertainment publication looks good with appearances on small-screen talk shows and top-lining a show in Vegas.
McGinly, who apparently went through loads of material on Howard, works in plenty of amusing scenes, including a running joke that ends with George Takei, as Malkovich shines with luminaries like Martha Stewart, Regis Philbin, and Conan O'Brien, among others. Blunt (good in Sunshine Cleaning) evinces a sultry charm as an agent who is part of the big come-back, which ultimately will be transient, and becomes involved with the agreeable Troy who never really knows Buck for sure, like the rest of us.
The Great Buck Howard might seem a bit self-serving or too indulgent for some, as perhaps some of the gags aren't invested to the desired effect. The production is damped down, which belies its budget, as a pallid look lets Malkovich really make the character stand out in a fun way. And, in backup, there are fine turns by Ricky Jay as Howard's manager and Adam Scott as his former assistant.
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