Hubie Halloween (2020)

OCTOBER 7, 2020


After dutifully seeing (and usually enjoying) Adam Sandler's output throughout the '90s, at a certain point I started losing interest. There were a few I didn't bother seeing in theaters, at least one I just half-watched on a plane, and even today there are several from the '00s I haven't seen at all. I'd make occasional exceptions for one reason or another, but I honestly think that in the past ten years the only one of his traditional "Happy Madison" type films I've seen is That's My Boy (which puts me in a minority since it was a flop, but I kind of loved it, go figure). Nothing against the performer; it's more that my taste in comedy changed (and continues to do so) and I no longer found myself in the target demo for his stuff. But then Hubie Halloween came along and, while still a comedy, promised a "scary movie" plot involving Scream masks and what appeared to be a werewolf played by Steve Buscemi, with the bonus of being shot in Salem, MA, where I spent a few Halloweens myself. Sold!

Admittedly the trailer gave me more of a BOO: A Madea Halloween vibe than a full on horror comedy like Tremors or something, but since it was directed by Steve Brill, who was at the helm of Little Nicky, it wasn't completely unreasonable to believe that there were legit supernatural occurrences going on along with the usual mix of irreverent and scatalogical comedy that people expect when they show up for a Sandman joint. I won't spoil the particulars here, only to say to anyone who might be wondering why the movie is popping up on HORROR Movie A Day that the movie takes place in Salem, MA on October 31st, has more seasonal decor than the entire Halloween franchise combined, and features a plot that involves both a possible werewolf and a masked lunatic who escapes from the asylum. So, traditional horror movie it is not, but it falls in that same "gateway" area as Sandler's Hotel Transylvania films, where horror parents can be comforted by allusions to all the stuff they love but also let their kids safely watch with them.

Sandler, naturally, plays Hubie, a virginal manchild who apparently spends all year waiting for Halloween so he can help protect the people of his town from any wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, the entire town (even children) think he's an idiot, and all but two characters in the film spend the majority of their screentime ridiculing him. The exceptions are his mom (June Squibb), who wears novelty T-shirts like "Boner Donor" (why she changes them for every scene in this "all in one day" movie is unknown), and Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen), who he has crushed on since high school and is yet oblivious to the fact that she's clearly in love with him as well (at one point she's practically throwing herself at him - it's a nice change of pace from his usual eye-rolling objects of affection who he has to win over). As he goes out on his Halloween patrol, one of his frequent bullies is seemingly kidnapped by supernatural forces right before his eyes, forcing him to - for the first time - actually protect his neighbors from something.

A few more folks go missing throughout the evening, with suspicion even falling on Hubie himself since all of the people are known antagonists to him (one being Ray Liotta, whose father passed away a few days before but isn't so despondent that he can't take the opportunity to push Hubie into the grave - the sort of psychotic sight gag I wish the movie had more of). It doesn't help that Hubie keeps saying that Buscemi's character is a werewolf and everyone in town is weary of his over cautious attitude (early on he calls the police when he sees a kid buying eggs and toilet paper). It's a shame, however, that Sandler and Tim Herlihy's script makes Hubie a witness to some of the disappearances; there's one sequence where Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph encounter and are taken by the villain, with Sandler not present - if they all played out like that it might have been a plausible (and kind of funny) reveal that he just snapped and started kidnapping (worse?) the people who were mean to him.

Again, I won't spoil the answer here. But I will say that the movie is much more endearing than I expected; I was really just hoping to laugh at a few gags and maybe nod my appreciation at some random horror movie reference, but I was quite taken with it and found it rather sweet. For someone who loves Halloween so much Hubie sure does get easily scared and never seems to understand what a costume is (at times I wondered if the character was meant to be childish or actually had some kind of disability), so that gets kind of annoying after a while, but otherwise Hubie is one of his more sympathetic characters - it's hard not to love a guy who donates his extra candy to a homeless shelter and risks his life to help people who treat him like crap. And Bowen is charming af too; there's a scene where she witnesses someone being mean to Hubie and her mama bear instincts come out - it rules. Sandler's reuniting with his former co-stars doesn't always allow the lightning to strike again (Blended, anyone?), but nearly 25 years after Happy Gilmore his chemistry with Bowen here makes me wish they had capitalized on it again sooner.

(Speaking of Happy, it takes place in the same universe apparently, as one of its more memorable characters shows up for a quick bit. There are also O'Doyles who are bullies, something that Billy Madison fans will love, though that could just be a case of recycling a good gag. Plus they're all dead, aren't they?)

As expected, a lot of Sandler's usual buddies are on hand, though the movie treats many as reveals so I guess I can't run through them all. Kevin James is the most prominent, playing the town's sheriff who is never once seen without his sunglasses through the entire movie (between this and Becky, where he played a heavily tattooed neo-Nazi, the man sure is going out of his way to shake up his look this year). Buscemi is as good as always; I am forever endeared that whatever friendship the two struck up on Airheads has lasted over 25 years, with the actor being game for whatever nonsense Sandler has him doing (he also scores the movie's biggest laugh in my opinion - I won't spoil the context but it's a simple "I was there" if you want to look for it). More than once I've read or heard anecdotes that Sandler is genuinely one of the nicest and most generous people around (in his memoir, Tom Green singled him out as the only one from Drew Barrymore's side of their ill-fated marriage who was respectful at their wedding; some of her celeb pals were heckling his uncle during his toast while Sandler danced with Green's mom and took time to chat with his other family members - awww!), and it seems his long-time partnerships with such a variety of talent is more proof of that.

I do wish it had some bigger laughs though. If you find it funny every time Hubie is scared you'll feel otherwise, but even you might agree that it's weird it makes up like half of the jokes in the movie (much more successful: off-screen people constantly throwing things at Hubie as he rides his bike past their homes). Sometimes it pays off though; there's a scene where he goes through a haunted house and attacks the actors, who are just confused at his extreme reactions ("I'm doing this to raise money for charity - why did you MACE me?"), and more than once he destroys his own property when he's scared by a decoration, usually good for a laugh. But for the most part it's the supporting cast being weird that earns most of the chuckles; particularly Rudolph and Meadows as a sexually unsatisfied couple (Meadows, for me, is one of those guys who just make me laugh as soon as they appear - I wish he'd get bigger roles in these things). It's got plenty of heart for sure, but I can't honestly say I didn't occasionally pine for the total anarchy of his older films ("STOP LOOKING AT ME SWAN!") and/or a few more minutes with people like Michael Chiklis as the town's fed up priest.

But again, if you want something "spooky" to watch with your kids, it'll do the job just fine, with very few adult jokes (mostly courtesy of Squibb's shirts) and a good lesson to learn about bullying for good measure. That said, it could be heartbreaking to see everyone going to parties and trick r treating on Halloween when most of us in this country won't be allowed the opportunity, so you might need to explain to your kids that this was filmed in the Before Times when things like that were still possible without risking death from a pandemic no one in charge is concerned with trying to stop (even when they get it themselves!). But hey, at least Netflix and their rivals are giving us plenty to watch while we're stuck in our homes, right?

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see this on HMAD, as I was wondering if it would qualify for my own horror film a day this month. I have been validated! Lol


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