Published Oct 08, 2020Like all things that suffer from "easy punchline" syndrome in popular culture, Adam Sandler's days as the go-to reference for lazy filmmaking are officially over. In recent years, he's released secretly solid throwaway comedies like Murder Mystery, dropped an all-time classic standup special with 100% Fresh and, of course, dominated the hipper corners of pop culture discourse with his Oscar-nominated turn as Howard Ratner in the Safdie brothers' much-hyped (and possibly slightly overrated, to no fault of a perfect Sandler) Uncut Gems. Factor in his endlessly sweet talk show appearances throughout the pandemic, and it's near impossible not to crush on the Sandman, who is ultimately a warm hug personified. That sweetness carries through to the candy-coated Hubie Halloween.
There's a reason cultural critics can so often be insufferable: they believe too much in some mythical objective canon, wherein things can be determined Good and Bad on nothing but their own Merits, as if they exist in a vacuum devoid of context. But films like those in Sandler's oeuvre need to be graded on their own Sandman curve. Like Weezer, that curve is determined by the first two untouchable releases, followed by a series of hits and misses with some true disappointments peppered in between. By that comparison, Hubie Halloween is The White Album or Everything Will Be Alright in the End — a project that approaches the greatness of the originals and, most importantly, shows us that Sandler and his pals are trying their damnedest to make good, fun movies.
Hubie (or Boobie or Pubie as he's less affectionately known by his endlessly cruel peers) is a classic Sandler character complete with an inexplicably dumb voice and an emotionally stunted, overly invested relationship with his mother. Physically, his resting frown face is permanently etched on and the standard Sandman outfits of strange 1999-level baggy clothes are omnipresent. For some reason, he also has a gently dyed faux hawk. But asking questions about Hubie's origin story, his aesthetic or even his motives are not really the point. One should also never question the logistics of his omnipresent Thermos — a magical flask that doubles as a flashlight, grapple hook, asthma inhaler and, among many other things, a receptacle for some nasty looking soup.
Just turn off your brain and accept the fact that the point is that he's a nice manchild who loves his home town of Salem, MA, and, most importantly, loves the holiday of Halloween. That is, despite the fact that he's easily terrified — and that nearly everyone hates him (save for his high school sweetheart Violet Valentine, played by Sandler's former Gilmore co-star Julie Bowen) and loves to throw increasingly absurd objects at him as he bikes around town. He loves to tattle on pranksters to a disinterested police department (run by Kevin James and Kenan Thompson) and when the town's newcomer Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi) starts to act suspicious as specific townspeople disappear, Hubie's days of crying wolf come back to haunt him as he tries to get the town on board to save the day.
To be clear — the plot of Hubie Halloween is incredibly stupid, and that last paragraph was probably longer than any pitch to get it off the ground at Netflix. But the difference between Hubie Halloween and some of Sandler's less loveable fair is its barrage of gags. While some land less than others, there is enough slapstick comedy, goofy wordplay and general stupidity peppering every scene to make it all worthwhile. Sandler's dumb-guy schtick is also so lived-in at this point that he truly comes across like a master of his craft, awkwardly fumbling through everyday scenes like the Buster Keaton of hard PG-13 comedies.
The film is packed with familiar faces, including some direct odes to Happy and Billy, but Hubie Halloween doesn't even need lazy nostalgia to win. It's really just a sweetly stupid family movie with a tidy lesson about being nice and plenty of shit and piss jokes along the way. Thanks to strong direction from Steven Brill (Little Nicky) and plenty of quick edits, it also manages to layer dumb jokes on thick without ever getting boring — all of that despite a fun-sized plot. Like the Halloween candy towered high in the film, this movie feels mass produced and probably isn't so good for us in the long run. But in the brief moments before reality sets back in, it's a damn treat. (Netflix)