Directed by: #StevenBrill
A little over one year ago, Adam Sandler made the ominous statement that were he to be snubbed by the Oscars for his performance in the Safdie brothers’ New York crime thriller Uncut Gems, he would go on to make a movie “that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay”. We were warned, and we didn’t listen. Uncut Gems shockingly received zero Academy Award nominations, despite its resounding critical and surprising financial success. To add further injury, Sandler didn’t receive any Oscar recognition despite his performance being heralded as a career defining turn for the often over-goofy actor. Now, with the recent release of the Netflix Original film Hubie Halloween, Sandler finally has his revenge.
Set in modern-day Salem—the famed epicenter of American witch-hunts in the late 17th Century— (as dramatized in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible), it soon becomes apparent that All Hallows’ Eve is something of an occasion in this small town. Costumes, elaborate decorations and seemingly endless celebrations take place on the days building up to October 31st, culminating in a fire-cracker fueled night of mischief and fright.
The film primarily follows mustached man-child Hubie Shubert Dubois (Sandler) as he fights to keep the streets of his hometown safe during these rowdy festivities. Hubie—it soon becomes clear—is generally considered to be a weird and worried member of the community, the punchline to most of the residents’ jokes: the self-titled “Halloween Monitor” entrusted with children’s safety, while himself mentally remaining a child. Bullied, teased and relentlessly pranked, Hubie takes it all on the chin, his heart of gold never tarnishing despite his neighbors’ clear dislike of him. However, when Hubie begins to unwittingly unravel a mystery the horror of which Salem hasn’t seen in centuries, once-bullies must turn to allies in the hopes of solving this case before the fateful night of Halloween.
By far the strongest side of the film remains the cast, a who’s who of former Saturday Night Live greats and frequent Sandler collaborators, with a few surprising additions in Ray Liotta and Shaquielle O’Neal. Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Maya Rudolf, Ben Stiller, Julie Bowen, Tim Meadows and the ever-great Steve Buscemi populate this Halloween-obsessed town, with quips and expert comedic timing giving life to what is typically childish humor from Sandler and co-writer Tim Herlihy.
This childish humor isn’t helped by what is largely cartoonishly spooky and frighteningly on-the-nose dialogue. An example of this is early on in the film, when Hubie asks Buscemi’s character how old he is. Rather than simply responding in an understandable manner, Buscemi asks “you mean in human years?”. While this answer is eventually justified later on in the movie, it nevertheless removes any form of reality from their conversation, something which plagues the majority of the dialogue in Hubie Halloween.
It is worth mentioning that this lack of subtlety is at least clearly a stylized choice from the creative team, as is often the case for most Sandler-lead projects. However, this choice is often highlighted by the fact that not every character acts and responds in this way, giving comedic emphasis to those who do. What audiences are instead given in Hubie Halloween is an over-saturation of this unsubtle style, removing any possible sense of reality from a film that could have greatly benefitted from some.
As is the case with nearly all Netflix originals, the film looks great, with high budget set design as well as creative use of color and practical lighting. All this paired with beautiful clarity of image and strong—albeit uninventive—visual storytelling lends the film an undeniably professional, high budget feel.
However, attractive cinematography alone cannot rescue largely childish dialogue, uneven narrative pacing and teenage scenes which feel directly taken from later seasons of Riverdale. All of these negative aspects of the film are perfectly emphasized by the finale, which draws on and on, lingering like a rotten pumpkin on a November doorstep.
While the world certainly feels in need of a good laugh right about now, the half-hearted relief viewers can expect from a handful of genuinely funny moments is far outweighed by the fact that Hubie Halloween still feels like a vengeful dig from Sandler towards the superiority of the Academy. And while this film is still a more refreshing release than the ever-upcoming Grown Ups 3, this critic hopes that Sandler will eventually continue on the path started with Uncut Gems towards more dramatic and rewarding work in the future.