“If I don’t get [an Oscar nomination], I’m going to fucking come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay. That’s how I get them.” – Adam Sandler, December 2019
Well, folks, he did it. Adam Sandler has made good on his faux-threat (or perhaps genuine promise?) to make a purposefully terrible movie as payback for the sin of us not nominating him for his performance in Uncut Gems. That movie is Hubie Halloween, which is allegedly a comedy, but I would have a hard time believing that considering the agony I endured while watching it. Hubie Halloween will be a tough blow to Sandler fans because it’s playing the same tired comedy beats we’ve seen in numerous past performances. Even tougher is the fact we have to stomach this after his hot 2019, which saw the release of both Uncut Gems and his actually fun and funny Netflix comedy Murder Mystery. To follow it that with just one 2020 release and have that release be — gulp — Hubie Halloween? Truly spooky stuff here, folks.
I’ll start with some candor: Netflix opted to not screen Hubie Halloween for critics. Their reasons are unclear, nor were they ever explicitly stated when I was told a link to watch was unavailable. More often than not, it’s a bad sign when a studio or streamer doesn’t offer the chance for a critic to watch and review a title ahead of release day. As such, my spidey-senses were tingling big time going into Hubie Halloween when it hit Netflix on October 7.
It was evident within the first 10 minutes of Hubie Halloween that my sneaking suspicions about the quality of the movie possibly being the reason for Netflix’s decision may have been right. Hubie Halloween is ostensibly about a middle-aged man named Hubie DuBois (Sandler) who, as a lifelong resident of Salem, Massachusetts, has fully embraced the town’s occult history and now serves as a Halloween volunteer. This entails spreading Halloween cheer, offering trick-or-treat etiquette, giving talks about Halloween at the local elementary school, and patrolling the town for ne’er-do-wells on All Hallows’ Eve. It also means Hubie gets the living shit kicked out of him, pelted with dangerous objects, and is verbally abused by everyone in Salem because, I guess, he’s a loser? One of the main goals of the movie is to show how Hubie was always right and the town was always wrong in their treatment of this lovable hero. But having 90% of a movie dedicated to pointless cruelty aimed at our protagonist is…what’s the word…bad!
I would tell you more about the plot, but frankly, where to start? The lack of narrative focus in Hubie Halloween is migraine-inducing. Does it want to be a spoof on Halloween, with a sadistic asylum escapee loose in the town? Does it want to follow Hubie’s pursuit of a possibly immortal werewolf terrorizing Salem? Is it interested in being a movie about two teens teaming up with Hubie to solve a string of mysterious disappearances, Scooby-Doo-style, on the spookiest night of the year? These are just a few of the threads set up and quickly dismissed in Hubie Halloween which could have been fun to watch play out if Sandler and Happy Madison-approved co-screenwriter Tim Herlihy (The Wedding Singer, Billy Madison, and, uh, Pixels) had chosen to focus rather than let their imaginations run wild.
Hubie Halloween is also a return to the worst aspects of Sandler’s comedic abilities. What’s more subterranean than toilet humor? Whatever it is, that’s the kind of comedy “gold” this movie is delivering. In a script devoid of subtext and replete with clumsily-delivered exposition, Hubie Halloween also chooses to make jokes (both physical and verbal) that would be funny to children only existing in the year 1994. Poop, pee, barf, and fart jokes come 10 a penny here — and none of them land. Also, am I supposed to laugh at Sandler dusting off his Waterboy (or perhaps it’s Little Nicky?) accent and remixing it with the kind of rage responses meant to make me laugh that I saw in Happy Gilmore? It ain’t happening, Sandman.
What’s most disheartening about Hubie Halloween is that it could have been a charming comedy if it wanted to be. The Hubie character is a likable, capable hero; why not let him thrive? Sure, it’s fun to see Happy Madison regulars like Kevin James and Steve Buscemi show up, as well as some great surprise bit players (no spoilers!), but it can’t smooth over the shaggy, disjointed, unfulfilled, poorly-done dud that is Hubie Halloween. Just know that the reason I’m not giving Hubie Halloween an “F” rating is thanks to the running bit where June Squibb keeps showing up in NSFW shirts. And no, I will not elaborate.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.