Every now and then, Sundance holds a Salt Lake City Gala, a snazzy, big-city-appropriate premiere, and on Friday night, the designated movie — The Great Buck Howard — looked worth the hassle of the 40-minute drive from Park City to Salt Lake. It’s a gentle showbiz comedy starring Colin Hanks as a law-school dropout who takes a gig as the personal assistant to the title “mentalist,” played, in humanized wack-out mode, by John Malkovich. Emily Blunt also stars as Buck’s publicist.
But the real draw in Salt Lake — for audiences and entertainment reporters alike — was Tom Hanks, who produced the movie, appears in two scenes as his real-life son Colin’s movie dad, worked the red carpet, and introduced the screening with his customary brio. “Welcome to you!” The elder Hanks told the crowd. “We are in the central hub, the absolute nexus of all of show business, as far as the world is concerned — the Sundance Film Festival.”
Salt Lake City, it turns out, was the perfect place to see The Great Buck Howard. If there were buyers in the crowd, I didn’t recognize them, and the only celeb I spotted not affiliated with the movie was Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (In both yapping on the red carpet and introducing the movie, by the way, the governor zealously busted out his Mandarin — apparently he’s the former U.S. ambassador to Singapore). The theater (and the sedate, well-lit after party) looked to be made up entirely of well-dressed locals, and they seemed to eat up the movie’s easy laughs and sweet, shambling, “I believe in magic” goodness in a way that I suspect the more dyspeptic, Blackberry-mad, grab-bag audiences of Park City might not be willing or able to duplicate. Indeed, in a shuttle bus in Park City on Saturday, I chatted up a young couple who’d just seen the movie — the bright-faced, smiley woman said she thought that The Great Buck Howard was nice; her dour-faced companion found it a little syrupy.