Adam Sandler’s track record with Happy Madison Productions has drawn an equal amount of praise and ire from audiences. The former SNL funnyman has curated a dedicated fanbase that flocks towards his zany projects, even though many of them are labeled as woeful missteps by critical pundits (looking at you Jack and Jill). Continuing his streak of Netflix Originals, the Sandman returns to the screen with his latest goofy hangout comedy Hubie Halloween, a flawed, yet agreeable comedy that soundly highlights the actor’s innate charms.
Hubie Halloween follows Hubie Dubois (Sandler), a much-maligned figure who works to protect Salem, Massachusetts during the Halloween season. While many laugh off his protective ways, the town is turned upside down when some of its citizens start disappearing, leaving their fate in the hands of Hubie as he looks to crack the case.
Similar to his boisterous comedic heyday, Sandler throws himself into the distinctly bizarre role of Hubie with full force. Spotting a nearly-unintelligible accent and limitless energy, Sandler creates a memorable persona that registers an earnest impression as the town’s outcast (Hubie’s ostracized image cleverly connects to Sandler’s own track record with harsh critical pundits). His ability to push Hubie’s quirks to a comedic extreme while still grounding the character in a sense of humanity plays a crucial role in holding the film’s flimsy narrative together. It’s also just a joy to see him babbling gibberish again with child-like glee, displaying the unique presence that made him a beloved staple.
Hubbie Halloween may stick closely to the Happy Madison hang-out movie formula, but it does color its contrivances with some much-needed personality. Familiar faces like Steve Buscemi, Rob Schneider, Maya Rudolph, and Tim Meadows effectively tap into the strengths of their comedic personas, with Buscemi’s wildly dedicated turn as a Werewolf stealing several frames. Director Steven Brill does a capable job embracing the film’s seasonal sensibility, working in some devilish jump scares that double as clever comedic setpieces (Hubie’s scared scream always makes for a laugh). Brill marries the holiday’s spooky atmosphere with a playful tonality while exhibiting sturdy visual craftsmanship for a Sandler-led vehicle. There’s also a plethora of loving homages to be discovered throughout, adding a reflective warmth that enhances the film’s easy-going charms.
While the alluring leads mask some of Hubie Halloween’s issues, there are still noticeable faults throughout. Much of these occur when Sandler isn’t onscreen, with B-plots involving a love interest (played by Julie Bowen) and some of the town’s adolescent characters lacking the comedic verve to register an impression. Herlihy and Sandler’s script seems content to go through the motions, focusing on predictable plot contrivances that rarely feel earned in the narrative framework (I wish the film leaned more into its supernatural happenings). It’s frustrating to see Sandler film’s continued reliance on cheap writing crutches, showing a timidness in embracing the earnest slap-dash nature of Happy Madison’s structural approach.
Still, Hubie Halloween works as a humorous and warmly-nostalgic entry in the Happy Madison catalog, perfectly suited for the casual embrace of streaming audiences.
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