Oh, Adam Sandler.
One of cinema’s greatest antiheroes has once again returned from an acclaimed, Oscar-worthy performance to craft another film for the real Sandler-heads. A nearly 2 hour shlockfest filled with CGI puke, sleepy performances, and abrasive cruelty in a film that could easily be mistaken for a Disney Channel original movie. Following last year’s snub of Adam Sandler’s truly genius, decade-defining performance in the effervescent Uncut Gems, the actor promised to make “the worst movie ever” – this time on purpose. Upon the announcement of Netflix’s Hubie Halloween, many speculated that this was just that.
Happy Madison’s magnum opus of trash, rivaling that of Jack & Jill or any other dozen or so offensively low-effort films churned out by the company on a yearly basis. Only this time… on purpose? What does that mean, in a career of duds, speckled with the occasional masterpiece? Is Sandler truly putting his best foot forward when he releases a film like The Ridiculous 6 when he has films like Funny People and Punch Drunk Love under his belt?
I’m not convinced.
In Hubie Halloween, we follow the titular character Hubie Dubois (get ready to hear that a thousand different times) in his day-to-day life as the town loser, relentlessly bullied by man and child alike for… being kind of annoying? It’s not made very clear, but the idea is that Hubie is a loser that no one likes. He loves Halloween and has assigned himself as the designated helper on the holiday, ensuring kids don’t take more candy than they’re allotted, that teenagers aren’t smoking cigarettes or getting drunk at parties, and that everyone is having a frightfully good time.
The only issue is that Hubie scares easily, as is highlighted by the hundreds of gags in which something mildly spooky happens and Hubie screams bloody murder, with anyone in earshot matching his volume in laughter. Hubie’s life is a living hell and despite the cruelty of those around him, he remains incessantly plucky and determined to better the lives of those around him. Sandler has long been known for finding kindness amongst cruelty, but in a film rounded out by Sandler’s friends and family, there is a noticeable change of pace. Moments of kindness ring more sincere and there are even attempts at fully-formed messages and themes.
If this is Adam Sandler’s intentionally awful film, then I’ve gotta say… I don’t think he did a very good job.
With Hubie Halloween, we see Sandler’s capacity to actually give a sh*t. Maybe it’s the leftover fumes from Uncut Gems, or the heavy involvement of his wife and kids, but there is a marked improvement in just about every area here, from filmmaking to the jokes themselves. Mind you, I can’t in good conscience call it good. It’s not. But even the shift to more dynamic lighting and a real character for longtime caricature artist Rob Schneider proves that Sandler has always had the ability to try. To not just make his friends laugh on set and earn them all a nice paycheck, but to really say something and commit something he cares about to film. He loves his friends, that’s always been apparent. But they too don’t seem to mind phoning it in for a dime and some fun.
Billy Madison was Sandler at his best, crafting actual jokes and giving a genuinely hilarious performance. Jack & Jill is him at his worst. The same formula, the same dumb voices, and borderline abstract randomness only done with what can be described as less than no effort. A cynical cash-grab and paid for vacation by the studio. The latter has been Sandler’s mode for the better part of a decade and as easy it could be to write off Hubie Halloween as another in a long line of (no) efforts, it’s just better enough to feel like a real swing at something greater.
Is it fair to judge Adam Sandler on terms independent from other films I review and to score a film in the pantheon of films like it rather than cinema as a whole? I’m not sure. But if a film has a sweet message and a Steve Buscemi Werewolf, really, what more can you ask for?