Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Sons of Mandrake

(Sean McGinly, US, 2008, 87 mins.)


Mentalism is similar to stage magic, featuring some of the same basic
tools, principles, sleights and skills in its performance.

-- Wikipedia entry

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

As Buck Howard (John Malkovich) explains in writer/director Sean McGinly's fun-
ny valentine to the talk-show mainstays of yesteryear, he's a mentalist, not a
magician. Unlike Ed Norton's showman in The Illusionist (SIFF '06), the temper-
mental artiste doesn't do Harry Houdini-style tricks. Rather, he reads minds,
finds hidden objects, and performs other feats that eschew props and come-
ly assistants (McGinly based his character on The Amazing Kreskin, below).

Now Howard attracts increasingly modest crowds. Enter law school dropout
Troy (a likably low-key Colin Hanks), who takes a job as his road manager.
Along with a sassy press agent (Emily Blunt) and two over-enthusiastic ven-
ue managers (Steve Zahn and Debra Monk), Troy works with Howard to
pull off the ultimate stunt: hypnotizing several hundred people at once.
Produced by Tom Hanks's Playtone banner, The Great Buck Howard follows the
rise, fall, and rise template of many Hanks productions (see Starter for Ten and his own That Thing You Do!), but McGinly handles a large cast with ease, the cameos-John Stewart, Conan O'Brien, George Takei, etc.-are a treat, and the unpredictab-
le Malkovich gives his most nuanced performance since, well, Being John Malkovich.
The Great Buck Howard plays the Uptown on 6/8 at 11am. An official release date has not yet been announced. The Amazing Kreskin credits Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician for inspiring his life's work. According to Wikipedia, "[A] movie based on Mandrake with actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers is set to start filming in 2008." Images from CinEmpire (-(c) Walden Media/Playtone), Broadway Theatre Blog, and Wikipedia.


  1. While he's not my favorite actor, Malkovitch has a handful of truly great performances, but he made those films years ago. I approached The Great Buck Howard with that bias and was pleasantly surprised. The concept reminded me of films like The Entertainer and Limelight, and Malkovitch is surprisingly well cast. The writing is wonderful. Howard stomps through the Burbank hallways of NBC spewing venom when asked if he'll reschedule. "I was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson sixty-one times, and I was never bumped!" When the producer unwisely mentions Jay Leno, Howard bellows, "That man is Satan!" Howard is the toothless old lion who still makes youngsters flinch when he enters a room, and is ultimately likeable for his ethics and professionalism.

  2. I hear you. Annie Wagner panned it in The Stranger, and I'm sure that'll scare a few punters away. It's a "small" film, but I hope people give it a chance. Maybe it helps that I still remember the talk shows of Howard's era (and I would imagine you do, too). I mean, I don't remember The Amazing Kreskin, but I do recall such multi-faceted characters as Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly, and there's a smidgen of their DNA spliced into the mix.

  3. I'm sorry to have missed this one - but I'm betting it will open soon. I can't imagine this cast being passed over...I hope! :)