Is Adam Sandler good? It’s a question that serious, self-respecting moviegoers have had to ask themselves since the actor’s appearance in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017). That film kicked off a modern Sandlerssance that hearkens back to the Saturday Night Live alum’s heyday in the mid- to late 1990s. This highly praised performance was then followed by an exceptional standup special — brazenly titled 100% Fresh (2018) — and a magnificent turn in the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems (2019), only perpetuating the notion that Sandler might actually be “good again,” as they say. This is, of course, in reference to the stretch of films between Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and the aforementioned The Meyerowitz Stories, when Sandler was widely considered to be “not good” — a run of work that included I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) and Jack and Jill (2011), among many other critical flops (one of the only exceptions to this trend being Judd Apatow’s Funny People , which is undoubtedly an outlier). It was a time where Sandler’s schtick wore increasingly thin with audiences, his box-office numbers were hemorrhaging, and his future output was ultimately sequestered to Netflix — a move that was viewed as a death sentence of sorts. The truth is that Sandler has always been good, though. His latest Netflix Original, Hubie Halloween, helps prove that.
In the film’s Happy Madison version of Salem, Mass., the locals take Halloween quite seriously. Residents go all out, sparing no expense on costumes, decorations, or festivities in preparation for the 31st of October. Home to the eponymous witch trials 400 years before, the townsfolk also take every opportunity to remind Hubie Dubois (Sandler) just how much they hate his guts. A 50-year-old virgin with a speech impediment that’s decidedly Waterboy-adjacent, Hubie is subjected to the most extreme scorn imaginable simply for the sin of being the lovable loser. As his cluelessly explicit mother (June Squibb) often reminds him, this unfair treatment of outliers and eccentrics is in Salem’s blood. For this reason, Hubie stays true to himself and doesn’t allow the townsfolk’s bullying to faze him. After all, it’s Halloween — who else would work tirelessly to ensure everyone’s safety on the biggest night of the year if not him? Given the recent escape of a patient from a nearby mental institution and a series of strange disappearances around Salem, the locals are going to need Hubie’s kindhearted heroics whether they realize it or not.
As to be expected, Sandler recruits some of his usual suspects to fill out the supporting cast. There’s Sgt. Steve Downey (Kevin James), a jock-turned-cop who’s clinging to his ’80s ’do; Mr. and Mrs. Hennessey (Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph), a couple who have known — and tormented — Hubie since high school; Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi), a new (and suspiciously hairy) neighbor who’s growing more beastly as the sun sets; and a few cameos ranging from inspired to obligatory that are best left unspoiled. Although these familiar faces are certainly welcome, it’s the newcomers who elevate Hubie Halloween from a typical “Sandler and Friends” production to something that resembles a genuine effort: Ray Liotta as the grieving Mr. Landolfa; Michael Chiklis as a rough-and-tumble priest; Julie Bowen as Hubie’s charming elementary-school sweetheart, Violet Valentine; and Sandler’s own daughters, Sadie and Sunny, as two of Violet’s foster children.
These new recruits in key roles are not the viewer’s first indication that Hubie is different from the other Happy Madison/Netflix collaborations, however. It’s the setting: a city rooted firmly within the contiguous United States. Not a Hawaiian beach, not an African resort, not the Italian countryside, but a modest Massachusetts town. Instead of living vicariously through Sandler as he goofs off at a luxurious exotic locale with his buddies, this film is more like watching the comedian horse around in a Spirit Halloween store. Oddly enough, it’s refreshing. As the co-writer of many of his own projects, Sandler is often accused of exploiting the filmmaking process and giving himself an excuse to take a tropical vacation on the studio’s dime. Those who’ve echoed this criticism in the past will be happy to know that a large part of this budget has gone to implementing a cozy fall aesthetic instead of being spent on transatlantic plane tickets or pricey remote accommodations. (Also notable: The soundtrack includes no classic rock! This might be a first for Sandler.)
To clarify, the absurd, gross-out slapstick at the heart of Hubie Halloween has been carried over from Sandler flick to Sandler flick (and likely always will be, Sandlerssance or not). Given his comments in the lead-up to 2019’s awards season — when the Uncut Gems star joked to Howard Stern that he would “come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose” if he didn’t get an Oscar nomination — much is sure to be made about the actual quality of the comedy in this particular film. As his first movie post-Gems (and post-snub), some feared that Hubie Halloween was the fabled flop Sandler warned everyone about last year. Luckily, this isn’t it. Besides being completed months before Sandler actually gave the interview, Hubie is actually not bad. Granted, people who’ve never had any affection for Sandler probably won’t suddenly discover a fondness for him, but there’s plenty to enjoy here for his diehard fans and occasional apologists.
Even with all the lewd, crude, and rude humor, the nasty sight gags, and the improbable romance, Hubie Halloween shows signs that Sandler is starting to grow up. He’s still doing weird voices, he’s still bankrolling SNL cast members new and old, he’s still resisting any and all political inclinations, but after all these years of unrelenting vitriol directed straight at him and his work, Sandler finally stuck up for himself: He’s Hubie, and his critics are the townsfolk who want to burn him at the stake. What’s so wrong with trying to be a good person who prioritizes the happiness of others? A Netflix Original can’t change the world — and it’s likely that a brand-name actor can’t, either — but it’s difficult to deny the power of the escapism that Hubie Halloween and other goofy comedies like it can provide (especially now). Although his movies might’ve skewed toward conventionally bad for much of the mid-’00s through to the mid-’10s, it’s clear that Adam Sandler as a person is — and always has been — good. The sooner the viewer surrenders to this, the more fun they’ll have with this unassuming Halloween comedy.
Hubie Halloween is now available to stream from Netflix.