Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production shingle often alternates between the star’s own, bigger-budgeted vehicles and decidedly downmarket pics featuring his buddies. The latter category reaches an almost impossibly low nadir with the Nick Swardson-starring porn-industry comedy “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” one of the most astonishingly unfunny films of this or any other year. Judging from the pic’s dismal opening-day numbers (it was not screened for critics), this may be one of those rare cases in which the general public decides there are certain cinematic troughs to which it simply will not descend.
Aside from its failures on the technical, narrative and humanitarian levels, “Bucky Larson” applies a brain-dead kidpic mentality to hard-R subject matter. For a film centered entirely around the sex trade, the pic is terrified of anything resembling actual human sexuality, and hardly features any nudity. (Pity the poor 12-year-olds who bother theater-hopping into this one.) Several dozen euphemisms for intercourse and genitals are heard throughout, and few were likely previously uttered outside a grade-school playground.
Directed by Tom Brady and scripted by Sandler, Swardson and Allen Covert, the pic starts out in rural Iowa, a slower, simpler place where families gather for nightly Yahtzee matches and old men casually smear peanut butter on their penises for roaming goats to lick off. Bucky (Swardson), a creepily virginal man-child with a pageboy haircut and protruding prosthetic beaver teeth, still lives here happily with his parents (Miriam Flynn, Edward Herrmann) until discovering in the worst possible way that they had a prolific past as fringe ’70s porn stars. Somehow untraumatized by this experience, he decides it’s his destiny to follow in the family business.
Hopping on a Greyhound to L.A., he falls into the good graces of a golden-hearted diner waitress (Christina Ricci), who sets him up with a psychotic roommate (Kevin Nealon) and, against all basic biological instincts, becomes his girlfriend. Bucky’s stud aspirations seem doomed by the little matter of his microscopic endowment and tendency to violently ejaculate in response to anything more titillating than a slight breeze, but a down-on-his-luck porn director (Don Johnson) sees potential in a performer who will make male viewers feel more confident about their own abilities by comparison.
Through all this, one feels nothing more strongly than an acute sympathy for all involved — in particular Ricci, who gives her role more than it deserves, and Herrmann, a classy character actor who once won a Tony. Swardson has been a dutiful team player in Sandler’s bullpen for years, but seems unlikely to break out of supporting status with this as his first starring role. Stephen Dorff is alone in generally seeming to have fun with his part as a preening rival woodman, but that’s not to say that he’s ever actually funny.
Production values are uniformly hideous, but they’re the least of the film’s problems.