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Spooky season, Sandler-style – ‘Hubie Halloween’

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Every moviegoer is different. We all have our own personal tastes. We have likes and dislikes specific to ourselves. Also – and this is important to note – we can like things that are “bad” and dislike things that are “good.” Again – taste.

This brings us to Adam Sandler.

As someone who came of age in the early 1990s, I experienced the beginnings of Sandler’s cinematic output at PRECISELY the right age. “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” “The Waterboy” – those movies were squarely in my juvenile-humored wheelhouse. So even as I grew up and my tastes became (somewhat) more sophisticated, I maintained a real affection for Sandler and his work.

Objectively, I can look at his output and recognize its many, MANY flaws. I can watch these films and acknowledge how “bad” they are. That doesn’t change the fact that part of me still enjoys watching them. Even the REALLY bad ones.

Happily, his new film “Hubie Halloween” – the latest installment under his megadeal with Netflix – isn’t one of the outright terrible ones. It isn’t, you know, good or anything, but it’s not as awful as some of what he’s churned out in recent years. Directed by longtime collaborator Steve Brill from a script co-written by Sandler and Tim Herlihy, it’s fairly typical, the standard goofy-voiced man-child boilerplate packed with dumb jokes and stupid gags, all delivered by the usual assemblage of Sandler buddies and relatives.

It’s shaggy and sloppy in the usual ways, but there’s also a low-key cheerfulness at the heart of the movie that elevates it somewhat. It’s far from the top of the Sandlerian canon, but it’s even farther from the bottom. These days, that’s a win.

In Salem, Massachusetts, Hubie Dubois (Sandler) has devoted his entire life to ensuring the safety of the masses during the Halloween holiday, appointing himself a Halloween monitor. His trusty multipurpose thermos at his side, he rides his bike all over town to encourage good behavior. For reasons that are never fully explained, this tendency toward helpfulness has resulted in an almost pathological loathing toward Hubie from almost the entire town. Everywhere he goes, he is scorned and mocked, with residents young and old taking great delight in throwing things at him and scaring him.

Really, the only two people who don’t treat him with hostile disdain are his mother (June Squibb, “Palm Springs”) – with whom he still lives – and his old schoolmate Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen, TV’s “Modern Family”), who actually likes him because of his niceness. Everyone else torments him relentlessly.

With Halloween approaching, things are ramping up in Salem. However, everyone is on alert because rumor has it that a former resident of the town, long confined to a mental institution, has escaped, his whereabouts unknown. Plus, Hubie’s new neighbor Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi, “The King of Staten Island”) is behaving awfully suspiciously. But when Hubie tries to share his concerns with police officer Steve Downey (Kevin James, “Becky”), he’s shot down.

Things really get weird when people start disappearing. But since the police won’t listen and the powers that be are more concerned with the Halloween tourism dollars than anything else, it’s all up to Hubie. He has to figure out what is going on and protect his home and his friends – just him and his admittedly-impressive thermos.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that “Hubie Halloween” is a great movie, or even a particularly good one. All of the criticisms that are usually leveled at Sandler’s work apply here. But I’m also not going to deny the simple truth that I found it to be legitimately entertaining. The weird voice affect, the ridiculous running gags, the supporting cast of slumming stars – I’m here for all of it.

Does it make any sense? Not really, but who cares? You’re not watching this for its sophisticated plot machinations and high-level cinematography. You’re here for fart jokes and people falling down – and “Hubie Halloween” definitely delivers in that department. Every generation deserves its own “Ernest Scared Stupid.” Congratulations, youth of today – this is yours.

It should be noted that the standard Sandler nepotism is even more prominent than usual with this one; the credits are littered with familiar last names from Happy Madison projects past and present. The film features a lot of small parts for young people, so a lot of his collaborators’ kids are involved.

As far as performances go, well … it’s about what you’d expect. Sandler’s doing his usual bit where he spends the entire movie with a voice that sounds like he’s doing it on a dare; it’s a bit strange to watch him do this shtick again after he showed us what he’s capable of with last year’s “Uncut Gems,” but he’s a guy who knows what his audience wants and is perfectly happy to give it to them.

One assumes that working with Sandler is a genuine delight, because this ensemble is packed with talented people who are obviously enjoying themselves. Bowen is game as she works through the usual underdeveloped female character stuff in these sorts of movies. James gleefully mullets his way through his time on screen. Buscemi clearly delights in the weirdness that Sandler throws at him. Squibb is charming as always (pay attention to her t-shirts). And then there’s the cavalcade of stars in parts large and small – Ray Liotta, Michael Chiklis, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Kenan Thompson, George Wallace … the list goes on and on. Hell, Ben Stiller reprises his “Happy Gilmore” role and Shaq shows up at one point.

“Hubie Halloween” is basically at the high end of what we should expect from Sandler’s Netflix offerings going forward. It’s not a great movie, but it’s entertaining enough for what it is. And if you’re someone like me, with an affection born in adolescence for the guy, you’ll have a spooky good time.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 12 October 2020 16:41

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