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November 27, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Sandler’s latest spook-free comedy is spirited but average

Hubie Halloween

Netflix

Actor Adam Sandler is funny. However, with a comedic track record as inconsistent as his, it can be easy to forget the highlights of his career, including movies like “Happy Gilmore” or “Billy Madison.” Unfortunately, “Hubie Halloween” — the ninth film Sandler’s production company Happy Madison has churned out for Netflix — is more of a trick than a treat.

Sandler plays Hubie Dubois, the village idiot of Salem, Massachusetts, with a heart of gold. On the eve of Halloween, a dangerous mental patient breaks out of a nearby institution while the town is gearing up for festive celebrations. Locals begin to go missing, and Hubie is the only one who seems to notice. With his history of being a scaredycat, no one wants to believe him. 

The meager plot uses familiar tropes to transition Hubie from one comedic set piece to another. What it really has in mind are Halloween-derived situational gags. Most of the humor is schadenfreudebased, and whether audience members will laugh or not depends on how funny they find puke, pratfalls or name-calling. Throughout the day, Hubie finds himself entangled with Salem police chief, Sgt. Steve Downey (Kevin James); his bizarre new neighbor, Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi); and his high school crush, Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen). These characters exist for Hubie to bounce his own absurd humor off of. This is slightly disappointing, as every joke in the movie’s limited range eventually turns stale.

Hubie is an innocent goofball à la Mr. Bean, or Pee-wee Herman. He’s always trying his best while other characters laugh at Hubie’s childishness. Sandler’s irreverent charm in this performance remains the primary draw. This is him in his comfort zone, making a film with his friends that can occasionally charm. Sandler co-wrote “Hubie Halloween” with Tim Herlihy, a former writer on Saturday Night Live, and the film is directed by Sandler’s longtime collaborator Steven Brill. All of them knows that their strength is lowbrow comedy, and Sandler does a decent job injecting it with personality. So while the movie’s humor can become eye rollinducing, the worst it gets is merely tolerable with Sandler on screen.

“Hubie Halloween” also does a decent job of delivering on the aesthetic and sentiment of the holiday that makes up 50% of its title. Salem was a perfectly selected location to feature iconic sights like the Salem Witch Museum and town square. Because the movie takes place mostly at night, the film is aglow with the warm orange light of pumpkin-shaped lanterns and the glare of the full moon shining among the ominous clouds. The costume department is also rightfully allowed to get creative. Witches, the bride of Frankenstein, Freddie Mercury and a wolfman all get to interact on Halloween, lending to the playfulness of the movie. 

Sandler’s latest film might not be the same outside-of-the-box experiment as 2019’s “Uncut Gems” — produced by entertainment company A24 rather than Happy Madison — but it should be enough for a not-too-scary spooky season watch. Those not interested in Sandler’s antics will likely not find the material here worthwhile. Regardless, Sandler is having plenty of fun providing audiences with the same unpretentious comedy he has supplied for the last 30 years. At the end of the day, “Hubie Halloween” strives for averageness and does it quite well on that front.