Last year, while being interviewed by Howard Stern, Adam Sandler said if he didn’t get a Best Actor nomination for Uncut Gems, he would “come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay”. Hubie Halloween is Sandler’s first film since not getting nominated for Uncut Gems, so it would appear this is the promised revenge movie, but I am pleased(?) to report that Hubie Halloween isn’t terrible. It isn’t great, but Sandler’s movies—that he produces, not the occasional art piece he stars in for others—have gotten so bad that when a Sandler movie that doesn’t make you want to drown yourself in a vat of beeswax it’s notable. In fact, in many ways, Hubie Halloween feels like a throwback to the 1990s heyday of Adam Sandler, and it is certainly the most effort he has EVER put into one of his Netflix projects.
Sandler’s character repertoire typically falls into three categories: selfish, lazy asshole; idiotic but well-meaning man-child; or sad-sack romantic. Hubie Dubois is predominately an idiotic but well-meaning man-child, with a dash of sad-sack romantic thrown in. This is a character in the Bobby Boucher/Little Nicky mold, so if Adam Sandler doing a dumb voice annoys you, then Hubie Halloween simply will not work for you and you should skip it. If, however, Sandler’s stupid voices—which all sound nearly identical—don’t grate your soul like a cheese shredder, then Hubie Halloween is a passable effort from Sandler. The movie is loaded with references to his classic movies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, including the return of Julie Bowen as Hubie’s love interest, and while many of the references only go so far as “hey, remember this?”, there is a top-notch O’Doyle joke tucked into the movie.
There are so many jokes in Hubie Halloween it doesn’t really matter if they land, because the movie is already onto the next one. For the record, most jokes don’t land, but the bits that work, work well. The script, penned by Sandler and longtime collaborator Tim Herlihy, steps on its own best work sometimes, ruining gags by pointing them out, but one running gag of the townspeople throwing increasingly deranged objects at Hubie is funny throughout. And Maya Rudolph and Tim Meadows rise above a mediocre bit about a sexually dysfunctional couple to mine real laughs (not surprising, they’re total pros rarely served well in film and so well used to making do with mediocrity), and Ray Liotta gets some laughs as a domineering bully who tortures Hubie.
The entire point of the movie is that everyone tortures Hubie, a grown-up hall monitor and self-appointed Halloween safety officer. Hubie loves Halloween, but he’s so credulous it’s a nightmare for him, as every single thing scares him, and he thinks a husky is a werewolf. Hubie is simple and innocent, but Sandler actually does something here to subtly make a point—at least until another character blatantly points it out, once again stepping on the gag—that Hubie is not dumb. Hubie, with his stilted speech and social awkwardness, could read as mentally challenged, but he is a keen observer who notices everything and remembers all of it, and he also casually uses big words in conversation. Hubie may be a perpetual adolescent, but don’t call him stupid—literally don’t, it’s the moral of the story.
Still, signs of Sandler’s besetting sin, laziness, do crop up. The most obvious is a stereotypical portrayal of a Black couple that is racist, but there’s also a joke about an asexual person that doesn’t work at all. It’s disappointing to watch an Adam Sandler movie where Sandler and his cohort are actually exerting themselves, only to fall back on such tired, unpleasant material. This unpleasantness is at odds with the movie’s messaging that being considerate matters and kindness wins. Lazy racist jokes barely register in a movie like The Ridiculous 6, itself a lazy racist movie. But up against Hubie’s underlying sincerity, those bad jokes don’t just stand out, they undermine the movie itself.
I suspect Hubie Halloween will work best for kids and nostalgic Sandler fans who have missed Sandler doing real character work in a comedy. It’s damning with faint praise, I know, but this is not the worst movie I’ve seen this year, and given the horrors of his Netflix oeuvre, Hubie Halloween feels like a step up for Sandler. Also, any movie with June Squibb gets an automatic half-grade raise. No one will ever confuse an Adam Sandler comedy with anything other than pure, unadulterated juvenilia, but Hubie Halloween is a reminder that when he wants to, Sandler can craft gleefully dumb comedies aimed at the youths that work more than they don’t.
Hubie Halloween is now streaming on Netflix.