In 2014, Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Productions signed a $250 million deal with Netflix to produce four new movies. Since that deal, Sandler and his team have dumped multiple movies onto the streaming juggernaut that have done good business (according to Netflix anyway). But why did one of the biggest movie stars of the last 25 years jump ship to stay exclusive (sans the occasional theatrical drama)? Was it because he saw the evolving status of movie-watching and wanted to test his strength as a Hollywood mover-and-shaker? Or was it because his movies were earning less and less money at actual movie theaters and the world was starting to catch-on to his low-brow laziness? Only he and David Spade know but judging by his latest childish, half-baked effort, he could’ve hit paydirt with a fresh batch of Disney Channel Original Movies.
Hubie Halloween could easily be mistaken for a DCOM given its simplicity. Same goes its lead character Hubie Dubois (Sandler), who could be generously described as a simpleton. He’s the laughingstock of Salem, easily scared by even the most rubber of Halloween decorations and as square as anyone can be while sporting a Swiss Army thermos. But Hubie’s big heart is committed to keeping his town safe on Halloween night, either by checking in on the children of his high school sweetheart (Julie Bowen) or by constantly alerting the local police sergeant (Kevin James) of spooky shenanigans. And shenanigans are abound with reports of an escaped mental patient, a mysterious new neighbor (Steve Buscemi) and strange disappearances.
After all the preparation and research he did to give one of the best performances of his career in Uncut Gems, it’s understandable why Sandler would go back to his roots. One could even retitle Hubie Halloween as Happy Madison’s Greatest Hits, what with Sandler playing another immature goofball with a vocal affectation (specifically Bill Murray’s from Caddyshack). As co-writer of the script with longtime collaborator Tim Herlihy (The Wedding Singer, Pixels), Sandler also brings back characters from his prior hits to repeat jokes from Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison and The Waterboy. This is all on top of the movie essentially being a kid-friendly remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween with all scares or clever visuals replaced with toilet humor and Sandler screaming like he’s passing a kidney stone. There are plenty of other late-era Happy Madison trademarks: a mean-spirited attitude shared amongst everybody else but Sandler and his love interest, cartoonish slapstick and a plethora of Sandler’s friends (Rob Schneider, Colin Quinn, Dan Patrick) looking like they’d rather be anywhere else. While all of those things would be stale enough 25 years after Sandler’s comedic peak, Hubie Halloween has the cheapness of a children’s TV special with bland child acting (some from his own children) and even a dollop of transphobia. Even if the movie has a handful of amusing sight gags and dresses Salem in adorable seasonal decorations to fit the spooky mood, Hubie Halloween has no business being 100 minutes long with this little effort and ambition.
It doesn’t seem worth the effort to get mad at Sandler for his unenthused performances anymore, but the fact that his Hubie comes barely a year after something so distinct and iconic as Howie Ratner in Uncut Gems just reignites the disappointment people have in him. Sandler’s performance here isn’t as annoying or offensive as his work in Jack & Jill or That’s My Boy, because of that he actually makes Hubie slightly sympathetic. Though it still doesn’t make him funny or give him any sense of an arc. There’s a very emblematic scene where Hubie does multiple funny voices describing a possible monster to Tim Meadows’s face, so much so that Meadows just yells at him to shut up. It’s almost metaphorical how Sandler has written his latest character as a whipping boy for people of all ages given his track record amongst critics. All of that possible detail is sadly not afforded to any of the other actors he’s roped into this. Bowen is the generic love interest that would be incredibly hollow if not for her own bubbly personality. James is hidden behind aviator sunglasses but maybe that’s for the best. There are also so many other random actors here, including Ray Liotta, Michael Chiklis and the delightful June Squibb, that are given nothing to do despite efforts of their own. It’s one thing for Sandler not to care in his own movies, but it’s a little more sad when other actors get sucked into his unenthused vortex.
For what is essentially Baby’s First Scary Movie, Hubie Halloween isn’t as dumb or grating as it could’ve been. It’s a bit too mean-spirited for the most basic children’s film, but it might fit a slot preceding the annual viewing of Halloweentown or Hocus Pocus. This of course means Hubie Halloween is disposable, cheap and devoid of originality. But hey, at least things in the world of Sandler are back to normal: with him being bored of at his job of entertainment and critics being annoyed at him.