We’ve come a long way, Adam Sandler and I. Growing up, his shrill-voiced protagonists grated on my nerves. I pretended to enjoy Big Daddy, Little Nicky, The Waterboy, and the like with my peers, all of whom were having a blast watching Sandler’s doofus antics. The road to forgiveness began last year with Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems. As manic jeweler Howard Ratner, Sandler delivered the performance of his career, demonstrating that his brilliance lies in his self-awareness.
When an entertainer is as deeply in tune with themselves as Sandler is, they can turn swine into wine. Case in point: his critically reviled 90s’ comedies becoming cultural staples of absurdist cinema. The great thing about Sandler is he can also reverse the effect. With his sixth Netflix original, Hubie Halloween, the renowned comedian continues cementing his legacy for the new streaming generation. Hearing Sandler’s mumble lisp as Hubie turns my previous revulsion into wispy nostalgia. If anyone can conjure a holiday miracle, it’s Adam Sandler.
This Sandler spectacle includes all the usual players — hello, Rob Schneider, in a role I won’t dare mention — plus some of comedy’s finest. Where else can you find Maya Rudolph dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein? Or Kevin James buried deep inside a mullet and retro sunglasses? Or, better still, June Squibb as a doting mother who won’t take anyone’s you-know-what when it comes to Hubie’s mistreatment? Even Michael Chiklis cast as yet another puffed-up, temperamental brute has its charm.
The insults toward Salem, Massachusetts’ self-designated Halloween chaperone might be relentless, but Hubie’s tenacious altruism overcomes the vitriol. This makes him one of the few Sandler misfits worth rooting for. Hubie’s arrested development stems from social intolerance rather than a genetic learning disability. In fact, under the right circumstances, Hubie can be quite the Casanova when least intentioned. Over the years, his community activism has wooed childhood crush Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen), though Hubie is oblivious to her reciprocal feelings of affection.
A serial killer recently escaped the nearby psychiatric hospital and is on the loose in Salem. Like Michael Myers, this psycho murderer can hide in plain sight thanks to the masked holiday. Employing similar POV shots from John Carpenter’s Halloween, director Steven Brill pays proper homage to the horror classic but refrains from lazy spoofing. Hubie Halloween follows its own unique pattern of bumbling detective work to save a town, which frankly doesn’t deserve Hubie’s good Samaritan efforts. Even 350 years after the witch trials, Salem is just as fervent to burn anyone at the stake who is the slightest bit different.
The Halloween surprise here is that Sandler’s latest contains more holiday spirit than most Christmas movies. There’s an abundance of joy, warm anecdotes about coming together, and easy laughter that softens our hardened frustration with 2020. From the outside, it might seem like Sandler has a low bar to clear to receive universal appreciation. However, once you dive into the farcical worlds he creates, you discover that the only pile of dung you’re standing on is an elitist outlook, obsessing over what cinema should be rather than what it fulfills for people seeking lighter escapism.