Do You Believe in Magic?

The Great Buck Howard

Do you believe in magic?  A couple new movies about washed-up conjurers are asking that question this Spring. Is Anybody There? (out in April) stars Michael Caine as a retired magician who all but puts his tricks away when he moves into a dreary old person’s home in rural England—until the son of the home’s owners (Son of Rambow’s Bill Milner) allows him to believe he might be able to communicate with his deceased wife.
A sunnier tale than John Crowley’s dark comedy, The Great Buck Howard, which comes out today, is based on the career of real-life “mentalist” The Amazing Kreskin. It’s a coming-of-age comedy and a must-see for John Malkovich fans. Malkovich stars as a haughtier-than-thou entertainer who “evolved out of” mere magic (in his words) at the age of three and achieved renown for his telepathic talents. Sadly, those talents don’t draw the crowds they used to. Buck is fond of reminding people he was on the Johnny Carson 61 times, albeit never in the show’s last ten years, and is reduced to plugging himself with lines like, “They have always loved me in Ohio-not so much Ohio as Akron.”

As Buck’s road manager, Colin Hanks acts as a sort of stand-in for writer/director Sean McGinly, who once worked as The Amazing Kreskin’s assistant.  Along with Buck’s slightly embarrassed publicist (Emily Blunt), he endures his boss’s tantrums with a mix of amusement and horror. “Buck Howard is the worst of everything-cheap and small and abusive,” McGinly explains. “And yet at times he’ll do something that’s so amazing and beautiful. He wows and entertains the crowd, and there’s something wonderful and graceful about that.” The movie may be full of skeptics, he added, but it doesn’t exactly take their side. “Maybe it’s a very cynical thing to believe there’s not magic in this world, and it’s an idealist thing to believe that inexplicable, amazing things happen every day,” he said.  “The cynical side will be thought of as more realistic, and the other side will be airy-fairy and dopey. But I worked for Kreskin, so I’ve seen it. He can do it. There were no shenanigans going on.” (LEFT: MICHAEL CAINE IN IS ANYBODY THERE?)

The Great Buck Howard is in theaters today.