Adam Sandler has been on a bit of a hot streak. After a string of less-than-tolerable cinematic disasters, including “Jack and Jill,” “The Cobbler” and “The Ridiculous Six,” the Sandman has managed to inject new life into his career. His last comedy, “Murder Mystery,” marked a departure from the lazy toilet humor that bogged down much of his earlier work, and his 2018 stand-up special, “100% Fresh,” was genuinely hysterical. Most recently, Sandler earned critical acclaim for his starring role in the Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems,” where the actor played against type as a selfish New York jeweller-slash-gambling addict.
Following these successes, only one question remained: When would Sandler fly too close to the sun? Certainly, he seemed to be setting himself up for failure. If the Oscars refused to throw him a Best Actor nod, he told radio host Howard Stern back in December he was going to make a terrible film on purpose just to get his revenge. And sure enough, the Academy passed on Sandler for the award. Would his next movie be the one to send him crashing back down to Earth? Well, maybe only halfway.
While “Hubie Halloween” doesn’t reach the nostalgic highs of a “Happy Gilmore,” it certainly doesn’t fall to the cringeworthy lows of a “Grown Ups 2.” Netflix’s new Halloween comedy sees Sandler break out a freshly ridiculous accent to portray Salem, Mass.’ local dullard Hubie Dubois. Descended from a woman executed during the Salem witch trials, Hubie has only one goal in life: to make sure that everyone in his town stays safe on Halloween night. When trick-or-treaters begin to go missing, Hubie will need help from all of Sandler’s typical co-stars to solve the case.
It’s a lighthearted story that’s predictably short on scares and narrative cohesion, but it’s hard to resist Sandler’s trademark charm as he stumbles his way from one awkward social interaction to the next. The film’s revolving door of comic powerhouses, including Kevin James, Maya Rudolph, Kenan Thompson and even Shaquille O’Neal, all play off Hubie’s manic energy nicely. And of course, Steve Buscemi shows up to give the world his best werewolf impression.
But how much you enjoy this film depends entirely on how you feel about Sandler’s particular form of low-brow comedy. His trademark toilet humor is back in full force — at least three characters soil themselves — and he expects plenty of laughs from the countless slapstick gags littered throughout the film. These jokes have just enough creative punch, though, to keep from getting stale. It’s truly remarkable to see Sandler swing from a tree using a grappling hook that shoots out of his thermos, or vacuuming broken glass with his thermos or protecting himself from an angry mob of middle schoolers aiming their lunches at his head by opening an umbrella out of his thermos — seriously, his thermos is magic. It’s these kinds of silly details that save the film and harken back to Sandler’s less offensive work in the early 2000s.
The film fails, however, to present a particularly compelling story. At this point in Sandler’s career, no one expects a masterpiece, but it’s fair to hope for at least a lick of suspense, even considering the film’s ridiculous premise. But alas, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Key suspects are brushed aside as red herrings before they have a chance to shine, romantic tensions are fabricated out of thin air and subplots come and go with little regard for narrative structure.
The creative team behind “Hubie Halloween” does deserve credit for attempting to push a positive message after a rather brilliant comic twist at the film’s climax. But after expecting audiences to laugh at Hubie’s torment throughout the film, an anti-bullying plea strikes a false chord. Seriously, the bullies in this film are vicious, and Hubie is so kindhearted that their actions feel nothing short of cruel.
Ultimately, the film does just enough to satisfy Sandler fans like myself, but it probably won’t do anything to win over his critics. It’s a goofy, lighthearted adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes for an easy watch despite its many flaws. Even if you can’t laugh at Sandler’s jokes, you can laugh with your friends as you make fun of Hubie’s ridiculous accent and the film’s countless inconsistencies.