Bringing a whoosh of comic energy to a movie in which
The movie would be altogether more energetic if it weren't framed by a bland coming-of-age story involving a young man named Troy Gable (
Blunt has the advantage of having a crisply defined character to play. Valerie is smart, ambitious and witheringly unsentimental, and Blunt uses her caustic deadpan (and some of McGinly's sharpest writing) to take over several of the scenes she's in. She's positioned to provide the movie's token romantic interest, and it's a treat to watch her muddle it. (Having blurted out to Troy that she has a boyfriend back in L.A., she instantly regroups: "Forget I said that," she says, leaning in for a one-night smooch.)
The role of a flamboyant has-been seems so custom-tailored for Malkovich that his actual performance feels anticlimactic. The cheesy ascots and awful orange blazers are perfectly in place, the graying hair is coiffed with adequate vanity, and when he spots a long-awaited profile in a magazine — one that turns out to examine him as a resident in "the minor leagues of showbiz" — we await the fuming meltdown that must surely follow. Malkovich is a terrific performer, but the movie's listless pace drags him down, and the character of Buck never quite comes into focus. There's a running joke about his sexual ambiguity (he dedicates his terrible songs to "a once very great friend of mine," the famously gay "Star Trek" alumnus George Takei, who later turns up for a huggy reunion), but it's so unformed that it never pays off.
The film is padded with familiar faces. Tom Hanks (who co-produced) plays his son Colin's dad to minimal effect, and Steve Zahn and Ricky Jay are oddly underutilized — Zahn in the role of a hick limo driver with a bandido mustache, Jay as Buck's manager. Also passing through in cameos are Tom Arnold, Conan O'Brien and Jon and Martha Stewart. And still the movie feels underpowered. Surely it would have been livelier if we saw Buck through Valerie's eyes, rather than Troy's. Valerie knows who she is, and she's a quick, funny study at sizing other people up. We're never sure who Troy is, or why we should care. We just know he's in the way.
Check out everything we've got on "The Great Buck Howard."
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