Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are both connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: Jim, I feel as if I need to begin this edition of Bad Movie Diaries with an apology to you. I am sorry, Jim. I am so, so sorry that I subjected you to Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star.
Jim: I warned you, Ken. I tried to warn you. But you were haughty. Reckless and prideful, and drunk on your own ambition, and possibly on booze, as well.
Ken: Whatever I may allegedly have been drunk on pales in comparison to the drug that is Adam Sandler’s power over the Hollywood machine. For indeed, only one so powerful and so aloof could ever have wrought so disastrous an argument for the complete erasure of the human race. At the risk of overselling it, I will say that Bucky Larson: Born To Be Star may be the worst movie we have yet watched for this feature.
Jim: That’s such a difficult thing to define, honestly. From a production standpoint, it’s obviously far more competent than the likes of Fatal Deviation. But from a standpoint of cynicism and earnestness, it ranks at the very bottom. If I’m being completely honest, though, this movie didn’t really make me froth at the mouth with rage, as it seems to have done to you. The effect on me, rather, was more like one of total blankness. It just washed over me and I felt dead inside for the entire time it was happening.
Ken: How I envy you, Jim. How I envy you.
Ken: I suppose we should get right to it. For those unfamiliar with it, Bucky Larson is probably the worst-reviewed and most reviled entry in the Happy Madison stable of films, Adam Sandler’s personal brand, which has given us no shortage of mediocre-to-horrific comedies throughout the past couple decades. I personally argue that no understanding of terrible filmmaking can be complete without dipping one’s toe in the yellowish shallows of the Happy Madison end of the pool, and Bucky Larson seems to be generally accepted as the worst that Sandler (who shares a writing credit with star Nick Swardson) has to offer.
Jim: And that is certainly saying something, but Bucky Larson earns it. This film honestly feels like something that was made by Nick Swardson and a group of friends without any kind of oversight or approval. It’s like they realized that Sandler would be away from the office during a long weekend and just decided to make a feature while he was gone. I can only assume that Sandler owed Swardson some kind of very large favor—possibly related to the disposal of a sex worker corpse?—and felt compelled to push the film for a national release as a result.
Jim: With that said: Paint us a picture, Ken. Describe “Bucky Larson,” film protagonist.
Ken: To understand our eponymous character, we need to start with the film’s opening itself, which puts us in an Iowa ripped from the scribblings of some resentful editorial cartoonist’s notebook. Hicks shooting scarecrows, guys dressed in overalls doing roadside DUI tests, and a guy smearing himself up with peanut butter to lure his goats into giving him a good morning. These are the salt of the earth people from whom Bucky Larson comes. Our protagonist himself is a man-child with big buck teeth and a Prince Valiant bowl cut, utterly simple and naive and friendly to everyone. Yet, every other character in this movie save one or two of them treat him with completely random contempt. He’s a grocery store bagger (because what other work can you get as a developmentally disabled person LOL!!!), and he is fired in the very first scene for no reason.
Everything about this guy screams “likable protagonist.”
Ken: Also Jim, you and I both happen to have worked for proud Iowan men in our time in newspapers. Is that an Iowa accent Bucky has? Because it sounds like a mockery of a Minnesotan one.
Jim: You could spend hours with a speech pathologist, just trying to break down the horrendous accents that Bucky and his friends are trying to pull off. During the scene where he and the other local losers—who never appear in the film again—sit and talk about masturbation in their basement, their accents drift so far off the beaten path that they end up in a dialect that is specifically unique to this film. They don’t even sound like they have Midwest accents; they sound like foreigners. It’s like the unholy union of “Fargo parody accent” and “cartoon Irish cop in a paddy wagon.”
Ken: I’m glad you mentioned Fargo, because silly accents aside, that film is coming from a place where it is not patronizing or belittling its protagonist. So, you know, NOT this movie. In any event, Bucky joins his basement of loser friends for a movie night to try to forget the trauma of being fired. It turns out they want to watch a porno and are disturbingly invested in the fact Bucky has never … I can’t even use a euphemism for masturbation, Jim. This movie ruined all of them for me, forever.
Anyway, the inciting incident: The porno stars Bucky’s parents. And this convinces him that his destiny is, like them, to be a movie star in the skin biz.
Jim: Despite having never had sex or masturbated before, yes. Nor does he think that he’ll need any experience in either of those things to become a porn star, I should mention.
Ken: I have not seen Orgazmo, Jim. Is this Orgazmo?
Jim: ... sort of? It’s certainly the film that shares the most DNA with Bucky Larson, except for the fact that Orgazmo is actually sort of funny.
Jim: Anyway. Bucky immediately tells his parents about his plan, and after 20 seconds of conversation he’s shown departing for L.A. That’s not an exaggeration; that’s just an observation.
By the way, the film at this point thinks that just the sight and sound of Bucky putting on headphones and listening to Hanson’s “MMMBop” constitutes a funny joke. This is probably the most angry I ever got while watching this film because of the implication that Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star thinks itself above or superior to “MMMBop.” Let me stress this: “MMMBop,” by Hanson, is a far more valuable and valid artistic accomplishment than anything in this movie.
Ken: I wholeheartedly and earnestly agree with you on that score, Jim, and add only that presenting this movie as a bar for “MMMBop” to clear is damning “MMMBop” with faint praise.
At this point, we all know what’s next, right? The scene where the ingénue shows up in that dirty dangerous Gomorrah called Los Angeles and gets weirded out by it. The old farmer guy Bucky was sitting next to the whole trip takes up with a hooker who is two whole feet taller than he is, Jim! What decadence has this megalopolis wrought?!
Jim: The city is a whore, Ken. And Bucky is primed to exploit her. By which I mean, he wanders around, goes to a diner and meets the female lead, played by an exceptionally depressed-looking Christina Ricci. Dear god, Ken. How can you not feel bad for Christina Ricci in this movie? There was a time when she was getting the same kinds of parts as Winona Ryder.
Ken: I was mostly disgusted and angry at this movie, but yes, the sadness I feel here is for Ricci. She is a talented and daring actor, and she is utterly mistreated in Bucky Larson.
The look on Christina Ricci’s face during this entire movie.
Jim: I think the sadness is best summed up by her character’s hopes and dreams in this film, which are to be a waitress. Not a chef, or a movie star, or a writer who is bussing tables on the side while she waits for her big break. Her dream is to wait tables in a restaurant fancier than the one where she works now, but her glorious career path was thrown off by the time she spilled scalding soup all over an elderly woman. She relates this to Bucky in a scene that is played completely straight and without laughs, which was a bizarre choice to say the least.
Ken: Yes, that utter lack of a wink and a nudge was one of the scenes that really just showed off how inept this movie is. There’s just zero comedic timing. If I had to ascribe some motive to her presentation here, I’d say they were trying to infantilize her in the same way they do Bucky, perhaps so we won’t feel weirded out by their budding relationship? Except that can’t be it, because the movie feels no compunction about grossing us out in every other way. Anyway, she takes pity on Bucky and helps him get a roommate.
Jim: That roommate is played by Saturday Night Live alum Kevin Nealon, just one of many Sandler cronies who stops by at some point. Here, I must make an admission—I kept a record of how many times I chuckled during Bucky Larson, Ken. The final count was three. All three were in some way related to Kevin Nealon because I was amused by how much he just despises the core of Bucky’s being for no particular reason. Him screaming accusations that Bucky ate one of his grapes was the highlight of the movie for me because it was so randomly cruel.
Ken: Man, we processed this feature entirely differently. I’m afraid I couldn’t stand that guy.
Of course, Bucky leads a charmed life in some respects. So despite being saddled with an abusive roommate and having earned the contempt of basically all humanity for having been born, he manages to score an in. First, though, he auditions for a mac and cheese commercial. Thinking that acting = porn, he drops trou and starts stroking it before the casting panel. One of them, inexplicably, decides he’s got the moxie to work in skin flicks, though, and takes him to go meet Stephen Dorff’s arrogant porn superstar character, Dick Shadow, whose name is the closest this movie ever gets to plausible reality.
Jim: I enjoyed the righteousness with which he insists throughout that “nothing grows in my **** shade … nothing.”
Dick Shadow, sensitive caricaturist.
Ken: I kind of love Dorff in everything that he’s in, and I suppose I appreciated how game he is in this turd. His character’s spitefulness and self-aggrandizement at least are consistent with the fact he’s the villain.
Jim: Don Johnson also at least acts professionally in this, playing a man named “Miles Deep,” who becomes Bucky’s porn director. His skin is oily, and his hair is glorious. He guides Bucky into performing his first porn scene, although things don’t quite go as planned, because: 1) Bucky’s penis is implied to be microscopically small, and 2) he immediately ejaculates at the first sight of anything sexual.
At this point, I want to turn things over to you, to describe to the audience exactly what it looks and sounds like when Bucky Larson achieves an orgasm.
Ken: You’ve saddled me with quite a task, sir.
Jim: You picked this movie, and have earned certain justifiable punishments.
Ken: At the merest glimpse of exposed breasts, Bucky shakes uncontrollably, shrieking like a howler monkey and rapid-fire ejaculating in every random direction. It is a running joke that he never hits his female co-star. The movie occasionally cuts to shots of his leavings on every other surface.
Jim: “Hey guys, remember that scene in There’s Something About Mary? What if we replicated that, and then did it like five times?”
Ken: This performance goes over as you’d expect, with Miles Deep lamenting of it ever making him a dime. But his much-put-upon PA and nephew uploads it to the internet, where it gets a billion hits on “YouPube.” We also learn that Bucky’s genitalia make the average boyfriend’s peckers look practically priapic in comparison. It is this dubious selling point that rockets Bucky to stardom.
Jim: Yes, in the mean-spirited world of Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, the hottest sensation in the porn industry is a guy who is so inadequate that he makes all the women watching feel better about their OWN inadequate men.
Ken: Did you recognize the woman at Bucky’s porn signing who was going on and on about that? Was she somebody noteworthy?
Jim: I didn’t recognize her, but she must have been some kind of indie stand-up. I’d also like to mention that there’s a cameo in here around this point in the film where KEEGAN MICHAEL-KEY shows up for about 30 seconds, and I felt so, so bad for the guy. Key & Peele was still one year away from premiering on Comedy Central at this point. If he ever has a big, hit movie in the future, his clip from Bucky Larson will surely be the kind of thing that late night hosts spring on him in humiliating fashion.
The winner of the Most Embarrassing Cameo Award.
Ken: I know, I was horrified. Less so by Jimmy Fallon’s barely straight-faced cameo (in which Bucky is so famous he goes on late night TV??).
Jim: I believe they actually culled that clip from an interview that Nick Swardson did on Fallon while in character, to promote the movie. You know that Sandler pulled some major strings on that one.
Ken: Good heavens, that happened?
Editor’s note: All evidence of this seems to have been scrubbed from the web.
Jim: Speaking of Nick Swardson, by the way: Imagine being this guy when this movie came out. You’ve got to know in your bones that this is your one, solitary chance at becoming a leading Hollywood actor. If this movie doesn’t pan out, you’re never going to get another lead role again. And the movie that is intended to launch you into stardom is Bucky Larson. You’re putting all of your eggs into the Bucky Larson basket. Jesus Christ.
Ready to go down with that Bucky Larson ship.
Ken: Really, the fact anybody involved in this wanted their name attached beggars belief.
Jim: The entire credits should have just been hundreds of Alan Smithees.
Ken: Anyway, Bucky’s fame peaks at an adult film awards ceremony, during which he outshines a churlish Dick Shadow by winning 12 damn awards in one night. It’s at the private afterparty in his hotel room that he and Ricci decide to finally cross the final frontier together. I had to describe Swardson’s O face, so this is your burden, Jim. Tell us about our protagonist’s Prima Nocte.
Jim: Well, remember how sexy that scene in Ghost was, with the pot-spinning and the rugged masculinity of Patrick Swayze? This is sort of like the opposite of that. It involves Ricci making Bucky some “protection” from about half an inch of plastic drink straw, which fits perfectly because Bucky’s penis is very small. It’s really integral at this point that the audience be reminded of this key fact: He has a small dick. It’s very small, and this is extremely funny. It only becomes funnier each time the small dick in question is referenced. In fact, the movie’s chief failing—if it has a failing—is that we aren’t reminded often enough of the fact that his penis is very small.
So very small, you see.
Ken: Yeah, I was in stitches.
Jim: Because it was very small.
Jim:... WHELP, I guess we’ve just about wrapped up here! Seriously though, there’s like 20 minutes more movie from this point on, but none of it matters in the slightest. There’s a misunderstanding; Christinia Ricci leaves Bucky; he realizes “what’s really important” and leaves the porn industry; he gets the girl back and returns to Iowa, where he opens a restaurant named “Bucky’s Fancy Steakhouse” for Ricci to practice her waitressing skills in.
Ken: That’s pretty much it, yeah. Nothing was said here, nothing was meant. Bucky remains a loser whom the world belittles and kicks sand upon.
Earlier, Jim, you said that from a technical standpoint this movie is by no means the worst we’ve ever screened for Bad Movie Diaries, but I want to make just a brief counterpoint. Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star had the backing of major Hollywood influence behind it, the participation of actors you and I recognize, and basically every convenience that struggling independent filmmakers do not have. It still managed, on every level, to be a dumpster fire. It hardly matters that it’s a dumpster fire with consistent lighting and no cameos from the boom mic.
Jim: I’ll bet that if we went back and looked through really carefully, there’s got to be a boom mic in there somewhere. Not that I would ever watch this again, under any circumstances.
Does it make you feel any better to know that the film maintains its perfect 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and was a box office disaster that made back only a quarter of its budget in theaters? Not even Armond White could force himself to write an outrage-baiting positive review for this movie.
Ken: It does give me some solace to know I’m not completely crazy in this, the dumbest of all possible timelines, Jim. I guess we could go over how utterly inept this movie’s tepid attempts at humor are, but I think our audience has seen and heard enough at this point. Can you think of anything constructive we might take away from this disaster, Jim? Other than that Netflix should not be enabling Sandler?
Jim: I am left wondering if the films that Adam Sandler is making for Netflix are better or worse than Bucky Larson. Like, if you were made to watch The Ridiculous Six, would it be more or less upsetting? I have no desire to find out, mind you. I’m simply posing a thought experiment.
Ken: I have watched The Ridiculous Six and can report that it is less upsetting, but again, we’re talking a very low bar to clear. And trust me, you really are better off skipping it.
Jim: Just when you think you know a guy. Are you a closet Sandler fan, Ken?
Ken: (clicks out of Incognito Mode and slams laptop shut) No! In any case, I think you should pick our next feature, Jim. Maybe less dick jokes in it, please.
Jim: If I accidentally pick something that has more penis humor in it than Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, things will have gone very wrong indeed.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste Movies, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.