Some questions you might want to ask yourself before watching Hubie Halloween: How long and loud are you liable to laugh at the sight of ninety-year-old June Squibb wearing a T-shirt with the words “Boner Donor?” on it. What about one that reads “I Shaved My Balls For This?” Or “If You Can Read This, You’re In Fart Range”? If you’re still gleefully chuckling at the idea of Squibb wearing those varying phrases across her chest, then proceed to Hubie Halloween, for you’ll find all your holidays have come at once. That’s about as good as the running gags get in Adam Sandler’s latest Netflix joint, which isn’t especially quick or funny even by the comedian’s basic standards — but is also too cheerfully, indifferently silly to raise much fury. Sandler’s work for the streaming giant has evolved to a level that’s both industry-proof and critic-proof, dependent merely on an algorithm to find an easygoing audience. Yet the broad — in multiple senses — reach of Hubie Halloween suggests that fanbase spans a few generations. Essentially throwaway family entertainment with as much faint sexual innuendo that can fit under a PG-13 ceiling, the film offers up Sandler’s once-signature gross-out shenanigans in obligatory fashion: Within the first two minutes, there’s a projective vomiting joke with so little payoff as to seem almost sheepish, soon cleaned up and out the way so the wholesome life lessons can begin.
As with any celebrity emcee, Sandler is obligated to play the hits, starting from the titular character Hubie Dubois, a put-upon man-child with a distinctively mumbly speaking voice, a doting mom (Squibb), and a French surname — sound a little familiar? If The Waterboy‘s Bobby Boucher merged with Sandler’s SNL character Canteen Boy, Hubie is basically just Canteen Boy dropped down an octave and armed with a gadget-filled thermos. Rather than supplying fresh H20 to football players, Hubie is a self-appointed safety advocate in his Halloween-obsessed hometown of Salem; he’s also an easily startled target for scares, as everyone in the town seems to know. Sandler, as he often does when working through a funny-voice shtick, tries to find a bittersweetness in the weirdness, as Hubie cares deeply for his hometown even though it conspires to frighten and pick on him at every turn.
Hubie Halloween eventually sets its misfit hero off to solve the Halloween-night disappearances of several Salem residents, though it’s hard to tell when the actual story is kicking in because the movie’s overstocked supporting cast is so scattered. Happy Madison mainstay Kevin James plays a local cop desperate to get Hubie’s alarmist warnings out of his purview, while Julie Bowen, former lover of Happy Gilmore, returns to the fold as the good-hearted Violent Valentine (who might as well be Vicki Vallencourt), whose kids bear suspicious resemblance to Hubie. (This isn’t a plot point. They’re played by Sandler’s actual daughters.) The rest of the ensemble flits in and out. Some, like Steve Buscemi as Hubie’s friendly but shifty new neighbor, are utilized better than others, like Maya Rudolph. Everyone, from Colin Quinn with a handful of lines to Shaquille O’Neal delivering crucial and vapid exposition, is well within their comfort zone.
The sheer number of SNL alumni wandering around this version of Salem may bring to mind the small-town fantasyland that Sandler conjured in Grown Ups 2. But, thankfully, Hubie Halloween is a lost less of an excruciating viewing experience, a little more more amusing than the typical autopilot filmmaking that’s on display in Sandler’s worst work. At times, the film briefly resembles a cheerfully silly version of Copland, with Hubie in the Sylvester Stallone role of the wannabe lawman hung up on a lifelong crush. He’s even menaced by an easily agitated Ray Liotta.
Sandler, his co-writer Tim Herlihy and director Steven Brill don’t have the patience to tease these elements out into a fresher variation on their preferred formulas. The filmmakers also haven’t tapped into a newfound talent for plotting out spooky mysteries, either: At one point, Bowen’s character casually and inexplicably suggests that Hubie go check out some information displayed on a gravestone just because it shares a name with someone he knows. It’s also difficult to tell whether the movie’s ultimate anti-bullying strategies represent a conscious reconsideration of Happy Madison’s usual suggested tactic of fighting bullying with cruel taunts and pitiless comeuppance, or just an obliviousness to those past tendencies. Yet there’s still some relaxing amusement to be had, at first. But no matter how pacifying Hubie Halloween initially feels, it doesn’t take long before you realize that it’s sweetness can’t overcome its overstuffed sloppiness and overall fleetingness.
Hubie Halloween is available to stream on Netflix