Tom Hanks Project – “The Great Buck Howard” Review

16 Nov

greatbuckThe only greatness in this movie is in the title. It’s more like The Decent at Best Buck Howard that Zack Kinda Liked and Caitlin Hated*. We get a lot more Colin Hanks than Tom in this movie where Colin plays the assistant to John Malkovich’s magician**. Tom produces the movie from his Play Tone production company. On paper there’s a lot of elements we’d love. You’ve got Malkovich playing a self-important past his prime magician, a lovable Colin Hanks doting on him and getting involved with Emily Blunt***. Plus small parts for Adam Scott as the fired assistant, Steve Zahn as a weirdo with a great mustache, Tom Hanks as the stern father and a bunch of talk show hosts playing themselves. Oh, and super randomly there’s Clap Your Hanks and Say Yeah playing themselves****. So, what’s not to like? Welp, even Tom’s two scenes playing his real son’s father can’t save this one from being forgettable and pointless. I actually liked it well enough, but Caitlin hated it*****. Let’s get into why…

*So, so much.

**This didn’t bother me — I’m quite a Colin fan and I think his work of late has been really fantastic. This movie just didn’t give him anything to work with.

***The least believable, most-forced couple I have ever seen.

****I’d like to pat myself on the back for this discovery. I recognized those brilliant, wide foreheads from a mile away.

*****You’ve never heard of the writer for this garbage film before. That’s because his other credits include Venomous (tagline: there is no antidote), Sonic Impact featuring Ice-T, and somehow Paul Rudd in 2 Days. This guy HAS to know somebody. 


We start with Colin Hanks unhappily in law school. He has his generic reasons for not being into it and says he wants to be a writer, but never writes anything*. He decides to quit school and find a job, so he looks at the want ads and finds a gig as the traveling assistant to The Great Buck Howard. Buck is a magician, played by Malkovich, who was big 20 years ago, appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times. He hasn’t been popular in decades and now plays to 1/3 full auditoriums in towns like Bakersfield and Akron. Buck is a quirky guy, who always drinks brandy before his shows, is always introduced by a cassette tape, can never find his way to the stage and always starts his show by saying “I love this town!”**  

*But let me be the first to point at that he lands on “writer” after cycling through like 8 other careers that his dad says ‘no’ to so we can establish Hanks Sr. as a hard-ass. Already I’m not feeling like he really cares about being a writer, he just doesn’t want to be a lawyer.

**Also, for literally no explainable reason, everyone is interested in Buck’s sexuality and we never get an answer to it nor is it in any way involved in the plot. Just a bit of weirdly placed semi-homophobia, I guess?


We get our first of two Tom scenes after a Buck show in Bakersfield. Buck really loves that town. Tom is under the impression that Colin is still in law school and is upset to see him carrying the bags of a magician*. He gives a pretty standard “I just want what’s best for you, I struggled so you didn’t have to” speech. It’s delivered well. Tom rarely plays a father and not surprisingly does a great job with his real son**. He’s subtle in his variation of the dad-who-wants-you-to-be-a-lawyer role, though he doesn’t elevate the film much with only two scenes.

*Not quite true — Tom found out that Colin had dropped out and tracked him down to this moment.

**This, for me, was the only enjoyable part of the film. Watching Tom get to play dad to his actual son. It was a fun peek behind the curtain in a way.


Emily Blunt is the shoe-horned in love interest for Colin. She comes in to do PR for Buck, who is attempting a big comeback with a new trick effect. She hooks up with Colin, seemingly just because she’s bored and stuck in Cincinnati with him. She even has a boyfriend back home, so we really don’t care about them as a couple at all*. Besides being a token love interest, she’s tasked with getting media attention for Buck’s big event where he puts hundreds of people to sleep at once. The trick goes off without a hitch**, but all the Cincinnati media misses covering it because Jerry Springer got in a car accident and they all go to cover that instead. Buck is so devastated over having his trick go well with no one there to see it that he collapses and has to be rushed to the hospital***.

*She’s SO personality-less, such a complete caricature of a person. She is there to be the opposite to Colin’s wide-eyed optimist; she’s a cynical non-believer, so I guess that’s why she’s drawn to him. They are forced together really quickly and none of it is interesting and AUGH THIS IS THE WORST. This was the angle of the film I most deeply hated.

**A few hundred people fall asleep. I mean.

***Again, not quite — he’s pissed (and awful) when the media leave, which causes Blunt to hand him the nasty write-up of him pictured below, and THAT makes him pass out.


Great pull quote from Adam Scott here. Didn’t notice that in the movie. 

For whatever reason, Buck being in the hospital is big enough news for him to get famous again. He goes on the late night circuit, filming bits with Conan and Jon Stewart, but not Jay Leno, his mortal enemy. This section is pretty fun, seeing Buck call Conan the wrong name and get unreasonably mad for getting bumped off Leno. Buck is offered a gig in Vegas and surprisingly, the methodical Buck agrees to cut the piano and boring parts of his act to make it right for Vegas, but blows his big trick and leaves Vegas to go back to small venues. Colin Hanks soon quits the job and Blunt gets him a job as an assistant to a TV writer. It sure seemed like they were setting him up to write the story of Buck Howard in a book, but that would just make too much sense. 

Laugh Out Loud: Zack: 28 Caitlin: 8 I was far more amused with this movie than my wife was. I’m always tickled by John Malkovich, so him as a quirky magician really did it for me, not to mention every little Zahn or Adam Scott moment. It was more of a “ha” than a hahaha but I had a number of them. I hated everyone.


Comedy: Zack: 6 Caitlin: 3 I may have laughed a lot, but this isn’t a funny movie. I don’t know what tone they were going for, but something to half watch if it’s ever on cable is what they got. I would never whole- or half-watch this piece of garbage again. I feel bad because it’s Play Tone, after all, and really does feature actors I adore. I truly do fault the script — it’s like something someone in high school might put together.

Romantic Interest: Zack N/A Caitlin: 0 Tom isn’t shown with a woman. Though if we were grading Colin/Blunt, it wouldn’t be very high. I think we clearly have to rate Blunt/Colin because that was the film’s love interest, and I give them ZERO! ZERO LIKE WHAT BUCK HOWARD HAS BECOME IN HIS OLD AGE.

Eye Cover/Cry: Both Zero. I can’t imagine anyone could possibly cry at this and no violence to get Caitlin to cover her eyes. I wanted to cry and cover my eyes for other reasons.


Hanks: Zack: 8.4 Caitlin: 8.6 Solid Hanks here. Even in this picture, he’s showing you how much disdain he has for Buck and how he makes Colin feel. It’s a decent little role for Tom and he does a solid job, but it would have been the same movie with pretty much anyone in his place. It’s nice to see father and son work together, though. Hanks does great in his scenes. He manages to not just play a complete caricature of the ‘angry father,’ and it’s an utter delight watching him work with Colin. The highlight, by far.

Movie: Zack: 6.5 Caitlin: 2.9 I can’t say I’d recommend this one, but I enjoyed it well enough while we watched. It’s a little funny, a solid idea for a movie, but ultimately it didn’t come together all that well. The romance was tacked on, the ending was dumb and we didn’t get nearly enough Tom. I had to go back and check what I put for Bonfire of the Vanities because that’s still the biggest piece of garbage I’ve ever seen Hanks in. I am putting this at a 2.9 because I would actually watch Volunteers again before I’d ever watch this film. Volunteers, you guys.


One Response to “Tom Hanks Project – “The Great Buck Howard” Review”


  1. Introduction to The Tom Hanks Project | rockloveaustin - November 17, 2015

    […] The Great Buck Howard – 2008 | Zack: 6.5 Caitlin: 2.9 […]

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