If you are familiar with Adam Sandler movies, this is exactly what you have come to expect. Whether that means you will enjoy it, or how much that is even possible for you, may vary. Less familiarity might actually equate to greater enjoyment, as you will be less annoyed and distracted by the references and callbacks to other Sandler flicks, and may even be surprised into laughter more frequently. This is not, of course, to be considered by the same criteria as many of the more “highbrow” movies that have featured Sandler in prominent roles, such as Uncut Gems, Punch-Drunk Love, or even Funny People. No, this is a Happy Madison production, which means there will be, among other things, flaming bags of dog poop (“He called the shit poop!”), goofy voices, and Rob Schneider.
Hubie Halloween is best compared to other true Adam Sandler movies, the best of which (Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore) gave the production company its name. The pandering to fans of these and other Sandler vehicles comes early and often, with Ben Stiller reprising his nursing home orderly character (Hal L.) from Happy, even going so far as to utter his familiar catchphrase, “You’re in my world now,” in case there was any confusion.
Julie Bowen also returns from that film, this time as an entirely new love interest, Violet Valentine, who just happens to have the same initials as her previous character, as well as two daughters who look inexplicably like the longtime unrequited love of her life, Hubie Dubois (Sandler). Is this a plot twist that will be revealed in the final act, perhaps some supernatural occurrence whereby the strength of her passion for Hubie imprinted his face upon her children, though they were sired by another? No, it’s just the sort of good-natured nepotism that characterizes Happy Madison productions, as the two girls are Sandler’s real-life daughters.
Sandler is in an interesting limbo here between the paunchy, middle-aged sad sacks he has so enjoyably and relatedly played in recent efforts like Gems and Murder Mystery, and the overgrown man-children of his early comedies, especially (and most unfortunately) the mush-mouthed mama’s boy protagonist of The Waterboy, Bobby Boucher. Hubie even lives with a doting mother (June Squibb) reminiscent of Kathy Bates as Mama Boucher, and is similarly scorned and ridiculed by his entire town of Salem, Massachusetts, so any Sandler fan not die-hard enough to pretend The Waterboy is any good might be cringing already.
There are some laughs to be found, mostly from some of the inevitable bit players that are part and parcel of the Happy Madison experience. Thankfully, Vanilla Ice is nowhere to be found this time around, and Schneider is actually pretty well used (which is to say sparingly). Lavell Crawford and Kym Whitley pair well together, as do Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph, and longtime Sandler bit player Steve Buscemi is great as always in the role of mysterious new neighbor Walter Lambert, a subplot that plays out like a halfway enthusiastic riff on The ‘Burbs. There is also a bit at a cemetery, in which Hubie inadvertently frightens a gravedigger, that recalls Mel Brooks, another beloved comedic auteur whose early work outshines much of his later output.
Mostly, though, Hubie feels like a toothless retread of the same things that made Sandler famous in the first place, softened by a more mature (and maudlin) moral outlook and a family-friendly, holiday-special aesthetic. Instead of the inspired anarchy of the hated O’Doyle family chanting their own name even as they plummet to fiery automotive death in Billy Madison, here we have the next generation gently pranked and taught a valuable lesson by Hubie. The elements of the plot involving its teen and pre-teen characters are easily the least enjoyable, the Hallmark Channel vibe just not meshing well with the style of a production house that has lived long enough to be its own stuffy parents. Still, at least it’s better than The Waterboy.