At some point today, people are going to spend actual American currency to see Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, and the soul of cinema will die a little more. The film is the latest offering from Happy Madison, which is Adam Sandler’s production company, or as it is better known – his friends’ ATM machine. In fact, it’s quite fitting that Sandler’s next cash cow, starring Nick Swardson as the titular character, will be released on his 44th birthday. “Happy birthday,” his friends will yell as they put their new Bentley keys in their pockets.
I’m sure by now that you’ve seen the non-stop barrage of commercials for Bucky Larson, and I assume that because they have been scorched into my brain because of their needlessly obnoxious delivery. The movie itself looks like standard Happy Madison fare, but for some reason the commercials have Peter Dante – more on him later – yelling at us about why we should see the film like we are complete morons. I honestly can’t decide whether I’m more annoyed or fascinated by the commercials.
What is the point of Dante yelling terrible jokes at us? Is he portraying his character in the film? Are we supposed to know this? Better yet, are we supposed to know who he is? I decided to answer that last question myself, as well as the question “Who the hell are these guys and why should we accept them as comedy stars?”
*Side Note: Not all movies associated to each actor are Happy Madison productions. They’re mostly just top-of-my-head examples.
Role: The Leading Man
Films: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Grown Ups, etc.
So Who the Hell is He: We all know Sandler pretty well so we don’t exactly need a crash course on his background. Like many people my age (somewhere between 21 and 65) I have fond memories of Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, so much so that I won’t watch them anymore because I’m afraid to lose my joy for them. I’ve seen most of Sandler’s movies, as I watched Grown Ups last year specifically to see if it was worthy of my Worst Movies of 2010 list. It earned the No. 1 spot.
As he has proven in films like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People (not a great movie but he was still good), Sandler has the ability to be awesome. Yet for some reason he retreats to painfully unfunny films like Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and the upcoming Jack and Jill. In fact, Jack and Jill has me believing that he’s outright mocking us now.
But my greatest criticism of Sandler is that which I respect most in a person – his loyalty. His films may be terrible. I may abhor them with every ounce of my body. But they make money and they put food on his friends’ tables. I just wish his friends cared enough about him to tell him that it’s OK to put some effort into his work.
UPDATE 1: Call it a complete brain fart to not mention this, but to be fair and not make this a complete negative, critical attack, I loved The Wedding Singer. I wish Happy Madison would use that film as a template, as opposed to rehashing old characters that never worked for Sandler in the first place (Cajun Boy was fine on SNL but not in The Waterboy, for instance).
Role: The Utility Man
Films: Deuce Bigalow, The Hot Chick, The Animal, The Benchwarmers
So Who the Hell is He: It seems like Schneider’s role within the organization has toned down over the past few years, after a run of leading roles that ranked somewhere between horse and dog on the fecal-ometer. Most of his recent starring efforts haven’t even reached the big screen, with films like American Virgin and The Chosen One – which I have actually seen and it was neither funny (if it was even meant to be a comedy) nor was it good – going straight to DVD. Schneider’s greatest strength for Happy Madison is that he plays quirky lesser roles in every film.
Since 2007’s Big Stan (you never saw it), Schneider has been trying his hand at directing as well. He also directed The Chosen One, which I reiterate – was awful. He had his moment in the sun as Richard Laymer (“Making copies…”) on “Saturday Night Live,” but all of his success – like being able to make out with inexplicably hotter female co-stars – boils down to Sandler.
Role: The A-Hole
Films: Tommy Boy, Black Sheep, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, Grown Ups, The Benchwarmers
So Who the Hell is He: This may sound bad, but had Chris Farley never died, I think David Spade would be a comedy legend. The two of them together made for a classic comedy duo, because by themselves (or with Matthew Perry) they were, well, just themselves. But that’s not to say that I don’t thoroughly enjoy most of Spade’s efforts. He may be the one guy in Happy Madison’s stable that knows what his strengths are – mostly just being a sarcastic dick – and plays on them.
Spade is hardly leading man material – he’s reportedly 3 apples high – but even his worst films (Dickie Roberts was atrocious) still have a little charm to them. For instance, I don’t know any people who dislike Joe Dirt. I don’t think it’s a good movie by any means, but I don’t hate it. He knows what we expect from him and he never tries to overcompensate. For most people that’s a terrible trait, but up against his peers it’s a godsend.
Role: The Black Guy
Films: Head of State, Bad Company, Grown Ups, The Longest Yard
So Who the Hell is He: Rock has never really been one of the usual suspects in Happy Madison’s gang. In fact, aside from Beverly Hills Ninja, he never had much to do with his former SNL cohorts until he appeared in The Longest Yard, Sandler’s unnecessary remake of the 1970s classic. I’d argue that Rock deserved an Oscar for his role in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, but aside from that, he’s not a good actor. At all. Bad Company may be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, and proof that Anthony Hopkins sold his soul to Lucipher.
My gut tells me that fried anything is delicious, but it also tells me that Rock’s involvement in The Longest Yard and Grown Ups was more about the paycheck than his friendship with Sandler. He’ll always have selling power and name recognition, which may suggest that Sandler needs him more than the other way around.
Role: The Fat Guy
Films: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Hitch, Zookeeper
So Who the Hell is He: While I don’t remember it at all, James made his first appearance with the Happy Madison clan in 50 First Dates. Admittedly, that’s one of Sandler’s rare movies that I can tolerate when it’s being aired non-stop on TBS. Since then, James became a full-timer with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which I think was actually a step backwards in the equal rights movement, and he has of course relegated himself to a career of cheap “Haha the fat guy fell down” jokes.
Back in 2001, James released the stand-up comedy special, “Sweat the Small Stuff.” If you’ve never seen it, I think it’s available on Netflix, but I really enjoyed it. He’s a funny comedian, which just goes to show that stand-up doesn’t always translate well to movies. However, criticism be damned, because people will always love humor of the lowest common denominator, so James will always be gleefully employed.
UPDATE 2: As wonderful commenter Beeks informed me, the Happy Madison offices were right next door to the set of “The King of Queens,” so that’s how Sandler and James hooked up. That reminds me – how was a show that had Jerry Stiller and Patton Oswalt not funny?
Role: The Actually Funny Guy
Films: Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, Grandma’s Boy, Just Go with It, Reno 911!: Miami, Malibu’s Most Wanted
So Who the Hell is He: Far and away known for his portrayal of Terry, the gay roller skating criminal, on “Reno 911!,” Swardson is the most naturally funny of the Happy Madison group. In fact, he’s funny on a level that makes people ask – “Why the hell is he with these guys?” I’ve always wondered how he isn’t a star yet, as his stand-up specials, laden with hilarious frat boy humor, and his short-lived (it may be coming back, but I didn’t bother checking) Comedy Central show “Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time” are hilarious. I would pay $12 to see a Gay Robot movie. I would not pay .12 to see Bucky Larson.
I can somewhat understand Swardson’s position. At 35, he could see himself in a now or never phase of his career. For a hilarious comedian, that’s not exactly a bad age, though. Most great comedians don’t hit their stride until their late 30s, early 40s. He’s clearly not desperate, either. While I haven’t seen it yet, 30 Minutes or Less has received good reviews (not from Vince, but I digest) and I have confidence in Swardson in any role. I just think that Bucky Larson looks so incredibly uninspired that it pains me to see him in that role.
(Also, if you haven’t seen the Comedy Central on Greg Giraldo’s death, in which Swardson tearfully reflects on his friend, the guy is everything beyond passionate. He deserves success.)
Role: The Average Joe
Films: Grandma’s Boy, Strange Wilderness, Little Nicky, Happy Gilmore
So Who the Hell is He: Covert has earned his status as Sandler’s No. 1 friend in the most classical American way imaginable – they were fraternity brothers in college. Covert made his debut with Sandler in the seldom mentioned sh*t show, Going Overboard. From there, he went on to play a role in 13 other Sandler films, but he received the best friend bump in 2006, when Sandler let him write and star in Grandma’s Boy.
Not a bad movie by any means, Grandma’s Boy certainly had its bad jokes and worse acting, but it definitely had charm. Covert is probably one of the best actors and all-around talents in the Happy Madison hot tub, but unlike Spade, he tries to go beyond what he’s best at by playing horrible characters like the gay roommate in Little Nicky, which is a film that is so bad that it should be cast to hell.
Role: The Stoner
Films: Grandma’s Boy, Strange Wilderness, The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Pretty much all of them
So Who the Hell is He: Sandler and Dante met in the 1990s when Dante was a PA on “The Larry Sanders Show,” starring Gary Shandling. Shandling apparently had a pick-up basketball game with his cast and crew (I would always pick Jeffrey Tambor) and on one very fateful day, Sandler played. Dante apparently kissed Sandler’s ass from the start and Sandler started giving him roles because he hooks up his fellow New Englanders.
Let this be a lesson to all of the aspiring actors and comedy writers out there – find out what celebrities are from your home town or state and invite them to play basketball. Tell them that you love their work and let them win. For instance, I’m from St. Louis. Brad Pitt and John Hamm are also from that area, so I’m going to hit them up. Should work like a charm. In summary, life is all about being in the right place at the right time and locking your lips to a star’s ass.
Role: The guy with the crazy eye
Films: All of them, Kill Bill Vol. 1
So Who the Hell is He: Loughran was a co-worker of Covert’s at a comedy club back in the 1990s, and Sandler was a regular because of Covert. Sandler ended up hiring Loughran to be his personal assistant for most of his films, and that’s how Loughran usually ended up in those films. He’s also apparently friendly with Quentin Tarantino, having had minor roles in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Deathproof.
Role: Guy Who Shows Up
Films: Little Nicky, Zohan, Chuck and Larry, 50 First Dates, etc.
So Who the Hell is He: No clue, dudes. The guy doesn’t have a picture anywhere and aside from a few character names, I can’t even figure out who he is. All I know is that he’s in most of Sandler’s films, dating back to Little Nicky and he’s never made a big enough impact to get a decent role. But that actually might be changing.
Grady, Loughran, and Dante are set to star in Renegade: Rebel Patriot, which appears to be a comedy about a CIA agent “forced out of retirement as the government’s last hope to stop a sinister plan.” I loved this movie the first time when it was called MacGruber.
Role: Some director
Films: Renegade: Rebel Patriot, O.C. Babes and the Slasher of Zombietown, Vaginal Holocaust, Caged Lesbos A Go Go, Orgy of Blood
So Who the Hell is He: Vince and I are both very fascinated with Creepersin’s involvement with a Happy Madison film, because how you not be interested in a guy with such a lazy name like Creep Creepersin?
Other notable Happy Madison actors who don’t really need an explanation: Kevin Nealon, Steve Buscemi, Chris Farley’s brothers, Dan Aykroyd