Hubie Halloween

Movie Information

Kristina Guckenberger and Josh McCormack discuss the new Adam Sandler comedy.
Genre: Comedy/Mystery
Director: Steven Brill
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Julie Bowen
Rated: PG-13

Kristina Guckenberger: I grew up with three brothers and an entourage of neighborhood guy friends, so Adam Sandler was an uncontested comedic hero in my household. Having said that, I’ll admit that I’ve all but checked out during his last decade or so of work.

Still, I was cautiously interested to dig into his latest festive Netflix comedy, Hubie Halloween. Sandler plays Hubie Dubois, a Halloween-obsessed social outcast who’s bumbling his way through life as the self-appointed “fun monitor” of Salem, Mass., whose unrelentingly ungrateful residents mysteriously start disappearing. Using Sandler’s trademark tactics of featuring funny friends on screen — including Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and half of the “SNL” cast (old and new) — and employment of obvious gross-out moments (cue the opening vomit scene), his newest endeavor feels like a fun-sized bite of comic chaos that leaves just a little too much to be desired. What were your initial impressions of the film, Josh?

Josh McCormack: Well it’s clear that you have more of a fondness for Sandler’s previous work than I ever did. With some notable exceptions (e.g., The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates), I’ve really never enjoyed his comedic output thus far and always find myself cringing when any of my close friends begin quoting his films. That being said, I am shocked to announce that I found myself laughing quite a bit during Hubie Halloween. It’s by no means a comedy master class — nor would I even consider it a genuinely good movie — but I thought some of its utter stupidity was endearing.

KG: “Stupidly endearing” might be the perfect word to describe Hubie’s persona, though I found his inaudible mumbling and overly vigilant methods difficult to empathize with at times. I did, however, immediately engage with the film’s onslaught of celebrity cameos. With briefly hilarious appearances from Ben Stiller (reprising his deliciously wicked Orderly Hal role from Happy Gilmore), Maya Rudolph and Tim Meadows as a perpetually bickering and embittered married couple with a penchant for pranking Hubie and Buscemi as the creepy mental-patient-turned-werewolf next door, Sandler smartly plays to his strengths. I was low-key interested to see which of his friends would pop up next. Who were you most excited to see?

JM: I personally thought Rudolph and Meadows stole the show. As you alluded, their constant bickering consistently managed to make me chuckle, and one sequence in which they prank Hubie at the drive-in movie theater was one of the film’s highlights. As far as the cast overall, I was more excited seeing the less obvious supporting actors (e.g., Ray Liotta and Michael Chiklis) as opposed to the normal Happy Madison productions lineup, such as James or Buscemi. And I was a little annoyed that I had to see Rob Schneider at all, even in such a small role.

KG: I couldn’t agree more, especially with regard to Schneider. Luckily, he’s mostly a vague presence in the film, portraying a mental institution escapee who tags along with Buscemi and isn’t on screen long enough to induce any lasting cringy feelings.

Speaking of cringe-worthy (in the best way), we must discuss the absolute standout performance in the film: Hubie’s mom (played with cheeky affection by the one and only June Squibb). Without her wildly graphic “boner donor” and “muff diving school” T-shirts contrasting her seemingly oblivious-yet-caring demeanor, the film wouldn’t have half the heart or intrigue that it so desperately needs. She grounds Hubie in a way that feels equal parts genuine and ridiculous, and her earnest (albeit surprisingly sinister) performance is reason enough to continue watching. What did you think of her character arc? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

JM: Squibb killed it. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since her Oscar-nominated role in Nebraska, and you’re absolutely right in saying that she provides at least a semblance of heart in the midst of this madcap comedy. I, too, found her arc to be surprising, and, to be quite honest, the running gag involving her increasingly inappropriate T-shirts had me practically rolling on the floor.

KG: They’re by far the most memorable visuals in the film and definitely made me want to see more of her. Squibb can do no wrong!

In contrast, the premise of Julie Bowen as Violet Valentine, Hubie’s doe-eyed love interest (who’s been not-so-subtly pining for him “since the first grade”), comes off just as implausible and eye-roll-worthy as it sounds. I know the aim was to give the bumbling do-gooder guy a “win,” but I found the whole proposition too unbelievable to connect with. It reiterates the age-old trope of “below-average guy gets the superhot girl” and makes me long to see the reverse on screen. Just once, I’d like to see an off-putting female outcast be agonizingly sought after by a male hottie, but I digress.

JM: I completely agree that this forced romance was one of the weakest elements of the film. Bowen is genuinely charming and funny on her own, so it’s even more of a shame that her character basically gets relegated to the love interest. However, Sandler’s tired trope is something I’ve frankly just come to expect, and I didn’t think it quite as egregious here as it has been in the past.

KG: Continuing with the examination of the film’s weak spots, did you find the plot (or lack thereof) frustrating, entertaining or any combination of the two?

JM: To be fair, I wasn’t expecting much of a plot at all, considering how low my expectations are set for Sandler comedies. However, I thought the plot elements worked just well enough. This is by no means a structurally sound piece of screenwriting, but it does what it can to keep the plot moving so it doesn’t all just feel like a collection of silly scenes barely strung together.

KG: I suppose what I enjoy so much about Sandler’s ’90s hits is the fact that they thrive on endlessly quotable scenes, distinctive characters and deeply funny, mostly coherent storylines. They’re instant, timeless classics that belong firmly in the comedy canon. Unfortunately, this film (and his recent string of half-hearted Netflix pursuits) feels lacking in most of these categories. What do you think? Are you a fan of Sandler’s latest comedies and/or his early work?

JM: Having only seen a couple of Sandler’s recent Netflix efforts, I’m certainly no expert on this subject. However, I’ve seen enough to say that I found Hubie miles better than anything he’s done for the streaming service. For one, it’s actually watchable. In comparison to a film like The Ridiculous 6, this looks like Citizen Kane. On that note, I think it also possesses a greater visual sense than almost any Sandler production. I’m a sucker for anything Halloween and the fog-laden night scenery, full of jack-o’-lanterns and other spooky decorations, was delightful. As far as how the film compares to his early work, I must reiterate that I’m not the best judge of that. While his early films like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison are clearly timeless to some, they just don’t carry that same impact for me.

KG: I agree that the overall heartfelt ethos of Hubie sets it apart from Sandler’s more unsuccessful attempts, and the absurdly festive visuals really did put me in the Halloween spirit. I suppose I just wanted the film to give me more — more wit, more backstory, more gore and even more spit takes! It wasn’t nearly as outlandish as it could’ve been, and the spoofy aspects would have better served the film if they were punched up to 11. Unfortunately, I think the writing was just too timid and rose-colored to give me the memorable, laugh-out-loud moments I crave from a proper Sandler flick.

I also found the film’s tone to be distractingly uneven, as it clumsily attempts to walk the line between crass and cruel. Instead of leaning into harmless satirizations that might have better highlighted Hubie’s perpetual altruism, the jokes often land too far into the caustic, cold-blooded arena and I couldn’t help but feel defeated with the guy. Did you think the film struck the right tonal balance? What comedic moments stuck out to you the most?

JM: I disagree with the tonal imbalance. Any sense of tenderness is tinged with so much humor that it never really feels out of place to me. In terms of comedic moments that stick out, there are quite a few. I love the repeating joke of people screwing up Hubie’s name, intentionally or unintentionally (including Liotta calling him “Pubie”). There’s also a certain NBA star who makes a cameo appearance and his scene is so stupidly amusing that I apologized to my fellow viewers for laughing as hard as I did.

On that note, I want to give credit to Sandler and his screenwriting partner Tim Herlihy for making this a family-friendly and mostly inoffensive comedy. So much of their previous work has consisted of punching down on minorities or involving white actors to play stereotyped Asians or Latinx characters, but that’s not really the case here. The humor is crass, but it all seems to be poking fun at Sandler’s character rather than Sandler mocking those around him. It’s an element I very much appreciated.

KG: Ignoring the relentless ridicule Hubie endures from his townsfolk on a daily basis, there’s certainly an overarching good-naturedness to the screenwriting. I agree that the decision to parody Sandler’s character almost exclusively — instead of going for the more obvious, marginalized targets — is smart and notable. There’s a great deal of self-inflicted mockery that Sandler’s become known for, and while Hubie is a little too sweet and preachy in its morality for my taste, it largely delivers on the wholesomeness front.

This is slightly unrelated, but I have to ask: What was the deal with his superrigged thermos? Is there some sort of connection to Hubie’s backstory that I missed, or is it really just a random weapon of choice? Make me understand it!

JM: I really don’t think there’s much to get. You’re probably putting more thought into it than Sandler or director Steve Brill ever did!

KG: Maybe that’s my problem with Hubie! I might’ve thought too much while watching it. Perhaps the film is more entertaining to those who are able to completely turn off their minds and just enjoy it for what it is: a feelgood-ish holiday flick with a steady moral compass and too few funny moments.

I suppose there’s nothing left to say except to answer the question on everyone’s minds: Is this the film version of 2020 (meaning, a steaming hot mess), or just the goofy brain vacation we need in these uncertain times?

JM: I’d say it’s the latter. I am usually the last person who would be defending a film like this, but, I have to admit, I had fun watching it. I love a smart, quirky comedy with whip-smart writing and strong satire just as much as the next guy, but Hubie Halloween reminded me that sometimes it’s okay to laugh at something really stupid. The film is still full of too many juvenile sequences consisting of some fart jokes and pee jokes that remind me of the worst of Happy Madison, but I think I’d give it a solid 2.5 stars. Compared to most Adam Sandler comedy vehicles, that’s pretty damn good.

KG: Maybe this conversation has softened me, as I was ready to rip this thing to shreds — but how can you attack something so defenseless? Much like the bullies in this film, I feel the teeniest bit changed. I suppose I’ll give it 2 stars for my history of Sandler stanship and Hubie’s tenderly misguided effort to make me laugh.

Available to stream via Netflix

About Kristina Guckenberger
Freelance writer, avid book hoarder, classic over-sharer, & all-around pop culture nut.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.