PLOT: The self-designated safety monitor for his Salem neighborhood during Halloween season, Hubie Dubois makes it his mission to keep the town safe from evil things, especially when people start going missing on Halloween night.
REVIEW: When you load up Netflix and the first thing you see is a large image of Adam Sandler making a goofy face, you probably know what you’re gonna see when you click “Play”. That’s the usual gang of Happy Madison regulars (Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, and any assortment of SNL legacy), a love interest way out of the league of Sandler’s character (in this case MODERN FAMILY’s Julie Bowen) and an onslaught of physical, potentially crass sight gags stretched over a razor-thin story that results in the Sandman coming out on top. And yet, even with all the familiar ingredients, with his latest spooky season release, HUBIE HALLOWEEN, those who have grown a bit tired of the star’s comedy antics have a bit of a surprise waiting for them when they see that this is — almost scarily — his sweetest, most genuine, earnestly silly comedy in years.
Taking place in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, Sandler – back on his usual grind coming off his Oscar-worthy turn in UNCUT GEMS – plays the titular Hubie Dubois, another character in his line of man-children, giving him a voice akin to his Bobby Boucher in THE WATERBOY but more if he spoke straight from the cheeks. Come Halloween he suits up with his ping-pong paddle and his hand-made Swiss Army thermos that has more features than an Iron Man suit as the self-designated safety monitor for the town, only to be treated as the town fool. Terrified by virtually everything, he’s mocked, scared for fun, and has gotten so used to having things tossed at him he’s able to turn him riding his bike home into a Cirque de Soleil performance by dodging items that are hurled at him. But this Halloween is a bit different, as an actual psycho is on the loose and is headed for Salem, and other residents start to go missing amidst the spooky festivities.
Directed by Steven Brill and written by both Sandler and Tim Herlihy, their latest collaboration doesn’t divert from the usual formula, in that it lives more for the gags than the story. Yes, there’s a mystery that’s unfolding, but most of the time is spent on the townsfolk being absolute trash to poor Hubie. He’s even given the not-so-clever nickname of “Pubie” by Ray Liotta, which catches on pretty quick as he spends Halloween night trying to make sure everyone is safe from what goes bump in the night. However, whereas recent Sandler-Netflix outings like MURDER MYSTERY have nothing much to laugh at, Sandler’s work as the endearing Hubie makes all the antics genuinely funny from beat to beat. Everyone is so mean to him, but it’s nothing too vicious to the point of crassness, which means it doesn’t distract from the personality, warmth, and ridiculousness Sandler has given Hubie. You feel for the guy, but he’s also so over-the-top as a character you can’t help but laugh at him. That’s a tough mixture to nail, let alone sustain for a 105-minute runtime, but the team concocted a witch’s brew that goes down easy.
Those versed in the Sandler-verse of movies will also note some references to classics like HAPPY GILMORE and BILLY MADISON, of which act as yet another reminder that these movies have been, in small ways, connecting to each other for longer than Marvel movies have, which is never not bizarre to think about. This will be the most fun for people who frequent Sandler outings and are happy to get what they get, and who look forward to seeing who James or Schneider pop up as. In this case, I actually prefer that Hubie gets the vast majority of the screen time, and that everyone else is fully okay with taking the bench. None of them quite shine the absurd glow that Sandler does, with only Buscemi getting moments to once again prove why he’s often an MVP of these movies. In fact, a lot of praise should go to the women of the movie, such as Bowen doing lovely, funny work as Victoria Valentine (a name that recalls Fairuza Balk’s Vicki Vallencourt in WATERBOY), the girl Hubie has loved for years, resulting in a romance that feels entirely threadbare. Then you have Maya Rudolph as one of Hubie’s many tormentors and June Squibb as his loving mother – both of whom get miles out of their short screen time because that’s just how legendary they are.
But for all the truly sweet and unabashedly silly moments the movie has, this is still a movie where the jokes come before virtually everything else. Story-wise, there isn’t much of one. There’s an escaped mental patient on the loose and people disappearing, but the filmmakers feel much more at home bouncing from antic to antic that makes Hubie the butt of the joke and letting Sandler be the goofball he is. It’s hard to discern where the story is going and what it’s doing for the character developmentally, with not much seeming to matter beyond what it does for the humor. They’re throwing so many stabs are horror movie mainstays that it becomes very clear there’s no intent here other than to get everyone together for a Halloween-fueled romp. That’s basically how most recent Sandler movies come off, as he whisks his buddies to some exotic location so they can sleepwalk through a vacation. But there’s a genuine sense of fun as they all get into the spirit of things – even if the nigh-constantly fun tone is all they manage to accomplish.
On that note, HUBIE HALLOWEEN won’t throw people who have fallen off the Sandler train back on board, but as a Halloween treat with spooky-funny morsels, it’s his most easily enjoyable feature in years. Don’t go in expecting anything valuable in the way of story or character work beyond what’s silliest, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of the movie when it’s so breezy and earnestly goofy, and whereby the end, you’re actually happy the lead character comes out on top in the end. Also, that thermos is a billion-dollar idea, so, someone should get on that.