Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.
It takes less than 10 minutes for Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star to loudly announce itself not only as the worst film of this project so far but one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It’s not just that the film isn’t funny; I’ve come to expect this from most Happy Madison films. It’s not just that the story is nonsensical; if that was a dealbreaker, I would’ve had to stop this project long ago. It’s not just that the premise is too immature for me; you may recall that one of my favorite films so far is incredibly dumb and immature. It’s that the film is an utter and complete failure in the most basic ways necessary to make a comprehensible movie.
I used to enjoy seeing Nick Swardson pop up in smaller roles, especially his recurring bits in Reno 911!, which really showed his talent for improv, and his stand-up specials when they were in heavy rotation on Comedy Central in the mid-2000s. For better or worse, Swardson became emblematic of the sensation around the time period when Comedy Central would greenlight a series — that would only last for a year or two — for nearly every semi-hot comedian at the time. Swardson’s sense of humor, once he came on board the Happy Madison family, unmistakably dipped into the juvenile both when on-screen and behind the scenes (he co-wrote the screenplay for Grandma’s Boy, The Benchwarmers, and this film), something which was surely inevitable. Bucky cranks that sensibility up to the nth degree, and the result is an unmitigated disaster.
Too many films throughout this series — and throughout Hollywood history — center around a misunderstood protagonist in a cruel world. Bucky Larson is undoubtedly one of those, but the film makes him the butt of every joke, and Swardson doesn’t have the charisma necessary to rise above it. Nobody wants to watch a film where the protagonist gets kicked around in search of redemption when they’re too annoying to be redeemed, and especially not when their redemption involves any of the disgustingly stupid acts on display in Bucky Larson.
If there’s one encouraging sign in having to watch this film, it’s knowing that both critics and audiences alike were as revolted by it as much as I was. The film represents Happy Madison’s biggest financial and critical failure, raking in only $2.5 million, pulled from theaters after two weeks and scoring a whopping total score of 9 on Metacritic. Swardson was understandably defensive of the film, deflecting the blame to improper marketing since the film’s “funniest” parts were too raunchy for a trailer. Three years earlier, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a film called Zack and Miri Make a Porno, where the film’s poster literally had to be reduced to stick figures because anything else was considered too raunchy. And yet Zack and Miri nearly doubled its budget at the box office, so I don’t think any promotional snafus are necessarily to blame.
Also not helping Swardson’s case are the film’s shoddy production values. The sound design is worse than anything Christopher Nolan could have dreamed up; sometimes it sounds like the microphone is on the opposite side of the room, leading to a distracting amount of echo and distortion. There are films that look cheaply made, and then there’s Bucky Larson. The scene at the adult film awards looks like the nearest mid-sized hotel’s ballroom was rented out and given a moderate makeover. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the venue wasn’t supposed to look like a Vegas-level event. Sometimes films are able to make their smaller budgets work in their favor, like in The Shortcut, but there’s no such movie magic to be seen in Bucky Larson.
I’d love to get an on-the-record account of what the Happy Madison team thinks of small-town America because the small glimpses we see are never very kind. The hometown in Mr. Deeds portrayed a village full of wide-eyed but simple folks, but here it’s harder to get a read on how Swardson views them, beyond stupid and misguided.
It’s inevitable that certain films come out every year, are quickly forgotten and now, as the kids say, “do not exist.” It could be because a film performed poorly at the box office, or it was punted to a streaming service, or had unremarkable-to-bad performances, or they’re overshadowed by another similar film in the same genre. I would say that a handful of Happy Madison films already don’t exist — and I’m sure there are more to come. Bucky Larson is so bad, it finds a way to continue to exist.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Would it really be a terrible film if Pauly Shore wasn’t in it?
- Just Go With It — The Happy Madison Promise: Kevin Nealon was a staple throughout the early Happy Madison films until one day he wasn’t. I don’t know what kind of movie Nealon thought he was in, but it’s definitely one much better than this. At least he brings some good weirdo energy for the brief moments he’s onscreen.
- Fart Joke Counter: There’s one human fart, and one robot in a sex shop that repeatedly shouts for you to “fart in [his] mouth”.
- The Walkout Test: The idea of this person at a screening for this film makes me laugh much harder than the film itself ever did.
- NEXT TIME: Well, it certainly can’t get any worse than this, right? Next week is… ***checks notes*** Jack and Jill.