Friday, March 20, 2009

2008: The Year of the Malkovich - The Great Fu... Buck Howard

Sorry about that. Totally tasteless, I know, but I'm in a bit of a mood. Boy, I just don't get this at all. Look at that list of reviews! No Onion? No The Stranger? No Village Voice? How will I know how to properly mock this movie? Guess I have to do all the thinking myself on this one. On the other hand, 'tis indeed a rare movie that's PG these days, especially with Malkovich in it. Why, I think the last PG-movie he did was The Killing Fields! I mean, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Johnny English. Quite a few this decade. We must nurture and cherish any and all PG movies that Hollywood churns out. The indies usually stick with R pics, no? Or was that just during the 90s?
Anyway, this film in retrospect reminds me of that old story about the guy in the circus who spends his days shoveling the elephant dung. When asked why he doesn't quit, he responds "What? And let all that methane escape into the atmosphere unsequestered? No sir! I've got to do my part to save Mother Earth. Do you realize that elephant dung releases more methane per square foot than..." I'm sorry, this damn schooling. No, he actually says "What, and give up show business?" And what better vessel to bring this story of the lighter side of show business grunt work than Tom Hanks' son Colin? True, he's not Josh Hartnett-handsome, and he doesn't sound as much like Tom as, say, brother Jim, and certainly doesn't sound as much like James Taylor as HIS son does, but in a pinch he'll do. He's got kind of a young-and-thin Jeb Bush quality about him, but likable.
In a sequence that kinda reminded me of the opening sequence of The Hudsucker Proxy with that big Nidus job board, we are introduced to Troy Gabel, a law student who wants to do something else with his life. And you gotta hand it to Tom Hanks for not taking the easy way out as Troy's stern father... I'm assuming his character's name is also Tom. And so Troy, much like the feather in Forrest Gump, lands himself at a table with Buck Howard, a Kreskin-esque celebrity who appeared on Carson a bunch of times... I think it was 61. And I only know he's Kreskin-esque because... well, I might as well let you find out the hard way just like me, no?
And so, Troy's life changes forever. And life chugs along for Troy as he helps Buck Howard along to his various small town gigs. Who knew? Even B-list celebrities can be high maintenance. Another twist of fate, similar to the one that got Troy the job in the first place, brings the lovely Valerie Brennan into Troy's and Buck's life. And much like Rebecca Hall in that other Play-Tone production Starter for 10, she's not exactly Adriana Lima, but she'll make a fine love interest, even though she says she has a boyfriend. Does the boyfriend show up at the end to kick Troy's ass? I might as well leave that to you to find out as well. Anything could happen in Hollyweird.
There's not much more to say about it. The cinematography is straightforward. Well, they can't all be like Raising Arizona, you know. The music's a little too wacky at times. Inside joke aside, Ricky Jay seems out of his element. Griffin Dunne's looking so old! We want the After Hours Griffin Dunne! The Lip Service Griffin Dunne! That's not asking too much, is it? And Steve Zahn, I'm assuming he didn't have to audition for his part as that starstruck Cincinnati guy who follows Buck Howard and entourage around everywhere. You know, for old times' sake. Malkovich does his usual good work here as a type of character I don't think he's ever tackled before. Sure, he's a cheesy washed-up celebrity on the outside, but he's still got a little of the old fire on the inside, and lets it loose at the right moments. A little more likable than the guy at the center of that maelstrom known as Colo(u)r Me Kubrick.
The two morals of this story that they seem to be imparting here are: 1) For gophers, showbiz isn't all bad, as long as you know the ropes and 2) respect for your elders. Right, Tom? You're getting up there yourself, you know. As for writer-director Sean McGinly, well, I'm no expert, but it is a little easier to get out of Exploitation Row these days than it used to be. Reg Powell sorta did it. Gregory Dark sorta did. Wally Pfister definitely did it. Who else? Simon Rex may have had to go back! ...damn. Guess not. Oh yeah, just remembered! Sean must've been a friend of Leslie Harter back in the day, that was it!

Good double bill with: Starter for 10
Bad double bill with: Swimming with Sharks

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

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