Adam Sandler is a solid guy to have in your corner, pulling enough weight with his A-list status and consistent box-office successes to get more modest comedic projects off the ground starring his faithful friends in the lead roles. Serving as producer and co-writer under his Happy Madison banner, he did this very thing with perpetual supporting player Allen Covert in 2006's "Grandma's Boy
," and he does it again with Nick Swardson (2011's "Just Go with It
") in "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star." In the past, Swardson has been a definite acquired taste even in small doses, tending to annoy more than amuse. Thus, his sweetly inspired title turn here is happily unexpected. He tries his hardest with a threadbare screenplay that he helped pen with Sandler and Covert, but it's almost too quaint. The film earns its R-rating, but stakes remain low in a story lacking in conflict and the raunchiness often feels like it's either holding back or trying too hard. A middle ground is never quite achieved, and what are left are a whole lot of repetitive jokes targeting Bucky's physical appearance and an obligatory love story better than the sorta-blah, sporadically-desperate script probably deserves.
When innocent twentysomething man-child Bucky Larson (Nick Swardson) gets fired from his grocery store job, he is left questioning what it is, exactly, that his destiny holds. A skin flick viewing with friends, his first masturbatory experience, and the discovery that his dear mom (Miriam Flynn) and dad (Edward Herrmann) once made a living as '70s porn stars Rosie Bush and Jim Spraysium suddenly makes things clear: he wants to follow in his parents' footsteps. With dreams of making it big, he leaves his tiny Iowa hometown of Goodrich behind and heads for L.A. He is glaringly green about how to go about getting a job in the industryhis first stop is an adult shop where he declares to the clerk that he wants to be in "nudes"but gets lucky when he runs into dried-up former porn director Miles Deep (Don Johnson). He's looking to make a comeback, and sees in Buckywho is not well-endowed but makes up for it with monkey-like instant orgasmsa secret weapon to do just that. As Bucky graduates to Internet sensation and even an award winner without once having to actually touch his busty female co-stars, he hits it off with good-hearted waitress and fellow outsider Kathy McGee (Christina Ricci).
Directed with adequate proficiency but not much verve by Tom Brady (2002's "The Hot Chick
"), "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" is better than its low-rent trailer might have suggested, but not by enough to warrant a full recommendation. There are plenty of good individual lines ("I haven't seen you this down since they canceled 'Jericho'," observes Mama Larson), some so-wacky-they're-funny porn titles thrown about ("Cock-a-Doodle-Goo" is a favorite), and intermittently humorous situations (a harmless dance in between two partygoers takes a turn for the worst when they suddenly assault Bucky with dildos). Too often, though, the film falls back on shallow jabs at Bucky's buckteeth, bowl haircut, Midwestern accent and un-hip fashion sense. The first few times are fine, but then it repeats itself to such a degree that it grows monotonous. The viewer also waits patiently for a stronger plot that never materializes. Bucky basically gets exactly what he wants throughout and road blocks are usually just brushed off and forgotten about moments after they appear. It isn't the most air-tight example of screenwriting, let's say.
Comic timing is one of director Tom Brady's strong suits, and most of his cast members are more than game. Small turns by Mary Pat Gleason (2008's "Drillbit Taylor
") as smarmy diner manager Marge and Jackie Sandler (2011's "Zookeeper
") as a harried casting director, for example, earn big laughs and mesh comfortably with the central characters. As Bucky, Nick Swardson embraces his character's awkwardness but doesn't make a mockery out of his offbeat ways. The actor appears to love his alter-ego as much as audiences are supposed to, and the fact that he remains so unabashedly virtuous in such a tough-minded biz is part of the joke as well as one of the picture's attributes. As Kathy, a foodie haunted by a nightmarish soup-serving incident that has warded her off from being the uptown waitress she has always dreamt of being, Christina Ricci (2008's "Speed Racer
") is just about as exuberant as she's ever been in memory. That's not to say the role isn't beneath her, but at least she embraces it and has fun. Consequently, the scenes between Bucky and Kathy are the best. As veteran director and confidante Miles Deep, Don Johnson (2010's "Machete
") does fine supporting work, while Stephen Dorff is credible as famous porn star Dick Shadow, but clearly taking a step down from his last film, 2010's exquisite Sofia Coppola character study "Somewhere
." On the lower rung of the acting ladder, there's no bother to dwell on the dumpy, abrasive contributions of Kevin Nealon (2009's "Aliens in the Attic
"); as Bucky's anger-prone roommate Gary, everything out of his mouth hits the ground with an embarrassing thud.
"Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" goes through the formulaic motionsbrief romantic falling-out (check), a climactic reconciliation with an '80s song, in this case Journey's "Faithfully," underscoring the scene (check)and is without much forward momentum. It can certainly be dumb and it's not going to change the world or even win over more than its target audience of young, randy males. All the same, it never is offensively bad or boring, and actually carries with it a pleasant tone and some admirable values. Through everything, Bucky and Kathy refuse to change who they are as people and see in each other all the things they hope to live up to. Blatantly silly and a bit bland, "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" is just okay on final assessment, but it's the kind of film one could imagine passing the time with on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. Better than nothing, yes, but still more often than not on autopilot.