Review by Peter Horan
On the haunting and melancholic “Halloween,” Californian singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers sombrely whispers, “Baby, it’s Halloween / And we can be anything.” This Halloween, Adam Sandler has decided to be – you guessed it – a kindly moron with a silly voice. For Sandler, why be “anything,” when you can simply be “the same thing” – over and over again? And so, as leaves begin to fall and fireworks crack, we are presented with Hubie Halloween (Steve Brill, 2020), or The Waterboy vs. Werewolves, as the film was presumably pitched to the bigwigs at Netflix.
For someone who has forged a career playing idiotic man-children, Sandler is clearly some sort of commercial genius. His films routinely receive the kind of reviews which should end careers yet, thirty years after his first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he is arguably more popular than ever. Netflix recently extended their partnership with him in a deal worth $275 million – and who could blame them? His 2019 folly, Murder Mystery (Kyle Newacheck), was the most-viewed film on the streaming service last year and, overall, users have spent over two billion hours consuming his content since the Sandler-Netflix production line first began chugging along in 2015.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that all of Sandler’s filmography has been a total waste of time and money. Paul Thomas Anderson, Noah Baumbach, and, most recently, the Safdie brothers have all found ways to manipulate his frenetic energy and fraught charisma to coax electrifying, tour-de-force performances from the Brooklyn native. But Steve Brill is no Paul Thomas Anderson, and Hubie Halloween is no Punch-Drunk Love (2002). In fact, Sandler promised that, if he didn’t get a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for his performance in Uncut Gems (Benny and Josh Safdie, 2019), then he would purposely follow it up with one of the worst films of his career to date.
If this was his intention with Hubie Halloween, however, then I’m afraid he must try harder. Sure, it’s 102 minutes of formulaic tedium but is it the nadir of Sandler’s chequered career? Hardly; the standard is far too low already.
The story follows the eponymous Hubie (Sandler), a deli worker with an unfortunate accent and a heart of gold who lives with his mother (June Squibb) in the infamously spooky Salem, Massachusetts. Voted “most likely to marry his pillow” in high school and nicknamed “Pubie,” Hubie is a kind, gentle soul whose propensity for being easily-scared results in the entire town terrorising him at any available opportunity. When a mysterious, new neighbour (Steve Buscemi doing a half-baked Gollum impression) moves in next door and a convict (Rob Schneider) escapes from a nearby mental institution, a suspicious Hubie takes it upon himself to keep the town safe on Halloween night – all while trying to pluck up the courage to confess his love to childhood crush, Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen, reprising the role of Sandler-love interest which she first took on in Happy Gilmore (Dennis Dugan, 1996)).
Sure, it’s 102 minutes of formulaic tedium but is it the nadir of Sandler’s chequered career? Hardly; the standard is far too low already.
The plot, as you would expect, is contrived and threadbare, and you get the impression that the performers care more about hanging out with their pals on set than safeguarding the quality of the film (the fact that Kevin James has had a long and lucrative career in Hollywood is surely proof that Sandler is the most generous friend in the industry). Indeed, far more attention is placed on superfluous cameos and unfunny slapstick than it is on creating any semblance of tension; within the first five minutes, Hubie violently pukes while riding a bicycle, then spectacularly falls off said bicycle (twice), and farts loudly in front of his werewolf-resembling neighbour. A variety of other actors who should know better (Ray Liotta, Maya Rudolph, Ben Stiller) emerge like peanuts from the bottom of a trick-or-treat sack and, inevitably, the film crams in the obligatory Shaquille O’Neal appearance (let us at least be thankful for the absence of David Spade). They all seem to be having a great time; it’s just a shame the same can’t be said of the audience. If you want to watch a film in which a hairy Steve Buscemi licks Rob Schneider’s hand while the latter wets himself, the this is the film for you (but you should probably also re-evaluate your life choices).
And yet, in spite of all this, it is hard to truly dislike Hubie Halloween. Yes, it is a film in which fart jokes unquestionably take precedence over any kind of narrative economy but it is also a film about the importance of kindness, humility, and compassion in the face of adversity. It just so happens that this message is rammed down our throats with all the subtlety of, well, an Adam Sandler film.