Who's In It: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Steve Zahn, Tom Hanks
The Basics: A has-been "mentalist" fond of reminding people that he guested on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over 60 times--one whose trademark tricks include finding wads of cash tucked into female audience members' brassieres and hypnotizing entire roomfuls of people--The "Great Buck Howard" endlessly crisscrosses the country, performing to aging audiences in half-empty small-town theaters. But with the help of a new personal assistant and a disgruntled young publicist, the magic diva finds himself caught up in a moment of retro hipness he's not sure he wants.
What's The Deal: A movie that seems to be battling with itself. It can't decide if it's about the John Malkovich character or about the young man played by Colin Hanks. Hanks narrates it, so I guess that means it's technically his story. But only when Malkovich is onscreen devouring everything does the action come to life, while Hanks recedes into the wallpaper. Never put a predator in the tank with a little fish.
Another Problem: There's more than a little indie-film condescension taking place throughout. Small towns? Full of well-meaning knuckleheads who don't know how to treat fancy celebrities. And fancy celebrities? When they get old then they're a joke. The only person the movie seems to want to side with is Emily Blunt, who knows enough to roll her eyes at everything that crosses her path.
Disconcerting Cultural Phenomenon The Movie Only Touches On: When Malkovich's character experiences a career resurgence it's because he's considered so old-fashioned, corny and uncool that he's good for a laugh. But it never fully dives into the really pervasive cultural ideas about celebrating things that are bad for the sake of entertainment. And it doesn't allow him to experience his refreshed fame long enough to navigate his way through the weirdness of it. Meanwhile we get a lot of wasted screen time while Colin Hanks's character noodles around hoping to find himself.
Worth Seeing For: Malkovich. He's a lot to take when he knows he's in charge of a movie. And he overacts. But he's still funny.