This is a film loosely based on The Amazing Kreskin, a mentalist, and fashioned out of the autobiographical story of writer/director Sean McGinly. Buck Howard (John Malkovich) is a has-been mentalist, existing on his reputation (he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 61 times) working on the road playing to half-filled audiences in small towns like Bakersfield, California. His decline is told through the eyes of Troy Gable (Colin Hanks, Tom’s son), a law school dropout (like McGinly) who signs on as his assistant, much to the displeasure of his father Mr. Gable (Tom Hanks).
When Troy and Buck meet, they find temporary common ground – both are working for the care, succor and promotion of Buck Howard. Buck considers himself a celebrity even though his fame is long gone. Troy soon realizes that his job is to shield Buck from the crueler facts of his life.
Malkovich gives an over-the-top performance (indeed, when does he not?), as Hanks effectively sleep walks his way through the film as more of an observer. While Malkovich dominates the film, and with Hanks looking as if he might fall asleep at any moment, Emily Blunt, who plays Valerie Brennan, a PR person sent to help Buck, enters the film 2/3 of the way through and saves it from terminal torpor. Valerie is disappointed that she’s sent to an assignment for an old man whose career has been effectively over for years but she strikes-up an electric relationship with Troy.
Blunt is a wonderful talent who has not yet been given the status to star in a film on her own, which is long overdue. Not only does she give her always stellar performance but she looks more beautiful than she has in the past. In “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), she was the frazzled assistant and Anne Hathaway, whose talent is a teeny fraction of Blunt’s, was the one who was made to look beautiful. In “Sunshine Cleaners” (2009), she was forced to take a back seat to the remarkable Amy Adams. Here, she is allowed to play a beautiful woman and it’s a pleasure to see her given the opportunity to shine in a romantic part. This film would have been a lot better had she been given a much larger role.
Interestingly, the film is officially rated at a run time of 137 minutes but the version I saw in the theater was only 90 minutes. I don’t think I could have stood it for much longer. Although the acting is good, it needed more Blunt.
A Studio City based non-profit organization founded by Leonard Lee Buschel and Robert Downey Sr., is hosting the Reel Recovery Film Series every Tuesday night in April and May at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood. They will be screening Hollywood’s most dramatic and realistic films about drug addiction and alcoholism ever made. In the coming weeks, The Lost Weekend April 14th, Leaving Las Vegas on April 21st, Sid and Nancy on April 28, Days of Wine and Roses on May 5th, Less Than Zero on May 12, Barfly on May 19th and the controversial cult classic, IVANSXTC. You can visit www.writersintreatment.org for more details.