When people talk about “critic-proof” movies, there’s no more on the nose example than nearly any one of Adam Sandler‘s Happy Madison productions. If they’re for you, they’re for you regardless of what Rotten Tomatoes might say. Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo (1999), Little Nicky (2000), Zookeeper (2011), Jack and Jill (2011), The Ridiculous 6 (2015) — with more than forty films produced so far, the company has made its comedic mandate clear with a reliance on crass jokes, pratfalls, mean-spirited abuse, and endings that deliver overly simplistic morals. They aren’t high art and never try to be, and there are even a handful of exceptions with legitimately entertaining and well-crafted films like Murder Mystery (2019) and The House Bunny (2008). Most importantly, they know their audiences and those audiences know (and love) them resulting in a fruitful relationship in both directions.
Hubie Halloween is the forty-fourth Happy Madison film, and while it’s arguably once again little more than a paid vacation for Sandler and his usual cohorts, it at least has the distinction of not being egregiously offensive to the concept of humor. It’s a simple, silly, star-filled ode to Halloween and the importance of kindness, and it being fairly unfunny and highly unconvincing with that message won’t matter at all to the Sandler faithful.
It’s Halloween time, and once again the small town of Salem, MA prepares for the biggest night of the year. Tourist dollars flow in, and Hubie Dubois (Sandler) rides the streets working to keep everyone safe despite no one giving him the time of day. Kids throw things at him as he pedals his bike — the gag grows throughout the film as innocuous foods are swapped out for flaming spears and sharp objects — and adults are no less merciless. Mr. Landolfa (Ray Liotta) calls him Pubie, and soon almost everyone’s joining in. The only exceptions are Hubie’s unnamed mom (June Squibb) and his childhood crush, Violet (Julie Bowen). Things take a turn, though, when townspeople start disappearing as someone, or some thing, hunts them in the night.
Is it the recently escaped lunatic (Rob Schneider)? The strange new neighbor (Steve Buscemi) with mysteriously hairy arms and an aversion to the full moon? The answer is actually almost immediately obvious despite a script by Sandler and Tim Herlihy (Billy Madison, 1995; Pixels, 2015) that tries in vain to misdirect viewers, but suspense is never really the game here anyway. Hubie Halloween is a comedy for folks already laughing at Kevin James‘ hair in the picture above or the thought of George Wallace riffing on Jaws (1975) as the town’s panic-averse mayor.
It’s also, unfortunately, for viewers who think “hot” women should immediately succumb to male kindness despite the absence of any other positive value. Hubie’s broke, lives with his mom, can barely navigate his daily life, and yet Violet still bends over backwards to lock him down — seriously, there’s a cringe-worthy scene towards the end that will leave you feeling terribly for Bowen. Violet’s son, Tommy (Noah Schnapp, Stranger Things), meets a girl (Paris Berelc) who’s well out of his league, a few years older, super cool, and yet she’s instantaneously eager to be his girlfriend. It’s shallow nonsense, but it’s well in league with the Happy Madison formula.
That lazy, one-note wish fulfillment continues with the film’s main theme regarding kindness. If you expect the entire town to learn the value of being nice and accepting Hubie as he is, well, congrats, you too could have written Hubie Halloween. It’s never convincing and instead feels like nothing more than the flipping of a switch, but this isn’t a film interested in selling itself as anything more than a harmless diversion from everyday life.
Performances are as expected with everyone channeling their expected personas and quirks — Sandler’s voice choice is occasionally difficult to understand, but you’re not missing much. Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Kenan Thompson, Michael Chiklis, and others pop in for their respective shticks. It’s an arguably unfunny film, but comedy being subjective means tastes will vary, so yes, Squibb’s rotating tee-shirt slogans amuse and there’s a fun gag involving Harley Quinn. Director Steven Brill, who started his career with the goofy yet inspirational Heavyweights (1995), has since become a go-to workhorse for Sandler with this being their fifth outing as director and star. He captures some of the mayhem with an energetic eye and isn’t against the occasional horror genre homage, but it’s ultimately a thankless gig.
Hubie Halloween is, at the end of the day the lightest of lightweight Sandler films. It’s also a reminder that as invested and memorable as he is in something like Uncut Gems (2019), he’s always ready to slide back into the silliness that pays the bills. Fans will enjoy the treat, and youngsters getting into horror will have some brainless fun too — it may not be ideal, but if a movie makes people happy it’s disingenuous to call it a bad thing.