Backstory: Another Darned Happy Madison Movie

will_leitch
The Projector

The odds are excellent that you do not know who Nick Swardson is. If you're a comedy nerd, you know he's a well-regarded standup comedian who briefly had a show on Comedy Central (that's returning next month for a second season). If you're one of the 15 people who saw "30 Minutes Or Less," you know him as Danny McBride's villainous cohort. But probably the only way you know him by sight -- and even then, just barely -- would be if we said, "Adam Sandler's annoying friend in 'Just Go With It.'" And now he's the lead (opposite Christina Ricci!) in a comedy going out to 1,400 theaters this weekend. How did that happen?

Well, it happened because he's Adam Sandler's annoying friend. "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" comes out this weekend under the Happy Madison banner, and the quick way to describe the "strategy" is to say they're trying to turn Nick Swardson into Kevin James. They're probably not gonna have much luck with that -- Kevin James' TV show did a little better than Nick Swardson's has so far -- but this is what Happy Madison does.

Happy Madison is the name of Adam Sandler's production company, run by Sandler and some of his old buddies, including Allen Covert, a college roommate of Sandler's who appears in all Sandler's films anymore. At least the ones produced by Happy Madison, including "Grandma's Boy," which was an attempt to make a star out of Covert. (It didn't work; the movie tanked, and you have probably never heard of Covert. Swardson's in that movie, too.)

Happy Madison movies are ones specifically targeted for Sandler or one of his buddies, with the idea that one of his pals could theoretically branch out into being marketable commodities on their own. It didn't work with Covert, but it certainly worked with James: "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," a Happy Madison production, was a massive hit, and "Zookeeper" is also doing well. Next year's "Here Comes The Boom," starring James as an MMA fighter, is another Happy Madison production.

But the real moneymaker is Sandler himself: You can usually tell the difference between an Adam Sandler movie produced by Happy Madison and one that wasn't by whether or not it made money. It's quite remarkable. Over the last 10 years, Sandler has starred in 14 films. Ten of them have made more than $100 million. The four that didn't: Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch Drunk Love," James L. Brooks' "Spanglish," Mike Binder's "Reign Over Me" and Judd Apatow's "Funny People." Though the latter two films were co-produced by Happy Madison, these four films are the only ones that didn't feature Sandler having complete creative control, including his stable of directors (Dennis Dugan, Adam Shankman, Frank Coraci). And they're the only ones that weren't massive hits. Happy Madison -- which has now started a dramatic division, called Madison 23, and a horror division, called Scary Madison -- has a consistent track record any production company in the world would kill for.

Another way those four films different from the 10 moneymakers? They're all at least halfway decent movies (in the case of "Punch Drunk Love," even great). Unlike the Happy Madison-produced films. That's the other thing Happy Madison is known for: Making terrible, shoddily produced films. With the success they've had so far, there's no reason for them not to. Thus: "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star." Enjoy.