Hubie Halloween shows the Sandler formula remains unchanged since the late 90s

Adam Sandler has returned to Netflix with Hubie Halloween. Facing a profound lack of volunteers at Flicks HQ, there was only one person we could think of to watch the movie and assess its merits. Tim Batt, we salute you.

Fair to say, I have a unique and special relationship with Adam Sandler comedies. I spent a year of my human life watching the abominable Grown Ups 2 every week with my friend Guy Montgomery for our podcast. It’s difficult to have confidence in any critical assessment I lob at the Sandman because of my strange familiarity with his work and the effect that process had on my brain. After all, would you ask a skier trapped under an avalanche for a review of the mountain? Would you ask a worker trapped in an elevator what they think of the building?

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With that caveat out of the way… Hubie Halloween. It’s the latest of 46 Happy Madison films (Sandler’s production company) and the formula remains unchanged since the late 90s. A ninety-minute runtime means this definitely qualifies as ‘a movie’. We’ve got a familiar cast led by Sandler as Hubie and joined by Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Buscemi. Even Ben Stiller briefly appears to essentially redo his role from Happy Gilmore. There are also a couple specific add-ons that each Happy Madison flick receives to help you tell them apart—in this case, Goodfellas’ Ray Liotta and current SNL royalty Kenan Thompson.

As always, they’re joined by an underwritten romantic interest who serves as a plaything for the men (this time it’s Modern Family’s Julie Bowen) and a mentally enfeebled lead with mama issues played by Sandler, who adopts a vocal affect truly testing the cultural sensitivity of 2020. This time, the dart thrown drunkenly at a board in the Happy Madison offices landed on Halloween as the film’s theme. So we’re doing that, I guess.

Taking place in modern day Salem, the plot is a whodunnit/monster-of-the-week mash up which tries to marry that town’s historic witch trials to modern day bullying. Only, the depiction of modern bullying is so cartoonish it doesn’t just read as antiquated, it feels like a home-schooled person’s mental image of schoolyard bullying assembled from a diet of 70s TV and Archie comic strips. The rebooted 21 Jump Street movie from 2012 seized on the disconnect between real life teens’ complexity and their depiction on sitcoms to incredible comedic effect. On this, Hubie just ran with the set up but never got to the punchline.

There’s a certain nostalgia triggered by Hubie Halloween coming out now. It simply will not acknowledge the current year, or even decade. Considering how fucked up everything currently is and how responsive our media has become, it feels like escapism. Not only is Hubie hermetically sealed against pandemics, it won’t explore the wider cultural conversions happening about the jokes it attempts, even for a split second. The themes of these jokes include trans experience, ableism and terrifyingly, using a grizzled 65-year-old Ray Liotta to hit on a teenager. With very slight adjustments, that particular scene could have been in a Jordan Peele horror.

The trouble with Sandler movies is, by what yardstick do we measure these disposable enterprises churned out twice yearly to keep Sandler’s family in safe housing? It seems ridiculous to bring up points of societal integration for what amounts to a kids’ film designed to bring a family with pre-teens together in front of the TV for less than two hours. But should a movie’s thorough infantilism allow it to escape critique on these issues? Can I get mad at a baby for saying something racist? Is there any point to examining either?

Enough of this erudite musing though. Allow me to put down the bong and get down to business—this is a film review site, so let’s review the film. Hubie Halloween is not the worst Sandler film ever made. It sits squarely in the middle of the pack. There are decent comedic turns, though never delivered by Sandler. Schneider’s reveal is genuinely funny if you’re invested in the Sandlerverse. Steve Buscemi made a relaxed and commendable effort with the ‘new guy in town with a secret’ role. Kevin James is dependable in his role as a bad cop (again).

My heart does go out to Julie Bowen who had to deliver lines and a performance so inconsistently written, I thought the character was going to be revealed as schizophrenic. The dynamic between her and Hubie is incredibly awkward. She’s painted as the ever-do-well Prom Queen with a heart of gold that never left town and is the target of Hubie’s affection but [SPOILER] she actually likes Hubie back. The issue is, Hubie has been presented as so childlike and (literally) developmentally challenged that it’s as if Bowen’s character (a foster mother to three kids) is attracted to teenagers. It’s deeply unsettling. And it’s certainly not supposed to be.

All this movie makes me want to do is explore the psyche of Adam Sandler. His writing betrays some dark inner workings. Why has he returned to the story he told repeatedly two decades ago in Little Nicky and The Waterboy. Why are we seeing him again portray an infantilised virgin with a heavy speech impediment who lives with his mother with no mention of a dad? Why are there always huge groups of people united in bullying him? Dammit, I drifted again.

My review of this movie; It’s pretty fine except for the bit where Ray Liotta hits on a teenager. If you like Sandler films, you’ll enjoy this. Otherwise, give it a miss. 4/10. Happy?