There's so much screaming in Hubie Halloween. The newest direct-to-Netflix Adam Sandler picture is very much a return to form after his awards season turn in the edgy, New York gambling epic Uncut Gems. Whether this is a good or bad thing is subject to debate, but one thing is for certain: Sandler, in this breezy, occasionally aimless, and always immature comedy, is very much in his comfort zone. And watching this movie is extremely comfortable.
From the first shot of Steve Brill's warm bath of a motion picture, it's clear this is a movie where if you can't find it in yourself to laugh then, well, the joke's on you. The spook-o-ween aesthetic (and "Monster Mash" sound cue) may have the look and feel of an energy drink commercial, but that's not a bad thing. Sandler and his murderers' row of co-stars have joined forces to create the cinematic equivalent of a corny haunted house you walk through with your family, kinda roll your eyes at, then end up buying the "gotcha" photograph in the gift shop because, yeah, it was actually a good time.
Sandler, once again doing the voice, stars as Hubie Dubois (Hubert Schubert Dubois, if you want the full name), a local ding dong in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Despite being a quick-to-freak-out scaredy cat (hence all the aforementioned screaming), Hubie is obsessed with Halloween, which just so happens to be the lifeblood of the town's economy, what with the witch trials and all. Armed with his Swiss Army Thermos (a kind of sonic screwdriver that also holds soup), he has taken it upon himself to be the town's "Halloween monitor." And this has annoyed nearly everyone.
His boy-who-cried-(were)wolf routine makes life miserable for the local cops (Kevin James, forever armed with a PayDay for some reason, and Kenan Thompson) and makes him the target of dumb bullies. These include old high school classmates (Ray Liotta, Tim Meadows, and Maya Rudolph) and his co-worker at the grocery store deli counter, played by the very funny Karan Brar. The only people in all of Salem who are nice to Hubie are his mom (June Squibb, wearer of potty-mouthed T-shirts she buys for 50 cents at flea markets) and Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen), the good-natured local foster mother and decades-long secret object of Hubie's affection.
Someone else who seems nice, at first, is a new neighbor played by Steve Buscemi, but he might actually be a dangerous escapee from a mental institution, or some kind of undead threat from the 17th century. It all comes to a head on Halloween night, when some of the locals start disappearing . . . and only Hubie knows!
But don't get spooked into thinking this is a film too reliant on plot. It is not. It is mostly a one-hour-and-forty-five minute opportunity to have Adam Sandler yell and make crazy noises. (And offer some culinary advice, like that a drop of A1 steak sauce in New England clam chowder might actually be delicious.) There are pee jokes, fart jokes, "feces" jokes, boner jokes (more boner jokes than you might think!) and a sequence in which Sandler starts yelling at a dog that just broke me into insane laughter because it was so dumb. There is even some business with Shaquille O'Neal devouring a club sandwich in some weird, lusty reverie that is difficult to explain, and a glorious moment in which a lunchroom full of school kids jeer and throw things at our hero. You can see some of them break character a bit, and are laughing as they do it. Good for them.
There's also a gag in which all the women at a news station, including Sandler's wife, Jackie, accidentally wear the same Halloween costume, and that's when it hit me: There's a very real possibility that this whole enterprise was Sandler needing an excuse to get his wife to dress up as Harley Quinn. Sandler pumps out these friends-and-family projects regularly (always the same circle of directors, always with Rob Schneider popping up), and as they've been getting older, his two kids, Sadie and Sunny, have been included, too. (Both of them are actually pretty great in this one; there's a whole chaste teen romance subplot that is sweet.) The point is, he knows he's going to be making another project like clockwork, so there's a very real level in which parts of these movies are "for him." It's an added benefit that we get to come along.
Sadly, there will be no trick-or-treating on Halloween in 2020, so Adam Sandler and company have given us the next best thing: Something delicious, perhaps with limited nutritional value, and certainly childish, but soothing, familiar, and fun.
TV Guide rating: 3.5/5
Hubie Halloween is now on Netflix.