The distance for Adam Sandler from last year's frantic, high-wire act "Uncut Gems" to his new Netflix comedy, "Hubie Halloween," is great, but maybe not as vast as it sounds.
Both feature Sandler playing someone who romanticizes something out of proportion (a high-priced gem in "Uncut Gems," Halloween in "Hubie Halloween"), an appearance by a former NBA star (Kevin Garnett in "Uncut Gems," Shaquille O'Neal in "Hubie Halloween") and June Squibb wearing a T-shirt that says "Boner Doner."
OK, that last one isn't in "Uncut Gems" but you wouldn't exactly put it past the Safdie brothers, either. Yes, Sandler's bouncing between movie realms has seemingly grown even more schizophrenic in recent years as his factory of Netflix releases chugs along with occasional departures like "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" and "Uncut Gems." But here's the thing: "Hubie Halloween" is good.
Yeah, I'm kind of surprised by that, too. The latest Billy Madison production might not seem especially distinguishable from the rest of Sandler's recent Netflix output. In many ways it's not. It's got most of his regular chums (Kevin James, Tim Meadows, Rob Schneider) and it's directed by Steven Brill, who helmed Sandler's "Sandy Wexler," "The Do-Over," "Mr. Deeds" and "Little Nicky." These are movies made with only a little more thought than another pick-up basketball game: "Let's run it back!"
And yet it feels like it's been a while since it was this much fun to watch Sandler et al goofing around. Sandler, already inextricably linked to Thanksgiving, has now left a mark on Halloween. Maybe it's because his movies can seem like (highly paid) extended vacations with friends, but holidays seem to work for him.
The destination this time is Salem, Massachusetts, where Hubie Dubois (Sandler), is a thermos-carrying stunted man-child who's been the butt of jokes since high school, taunted for his unhipness and his good-hearted sincerity. He's an immediately familiar protagonist for Sandler — a cousin to Canteen Boy and a brother to Bobby Boucher of "The Water Boy." Hubie, a Halloween devotee who's nevertheless easily spooked by the season's decorations, has anointed himself the holiday's official "monitor" in Salem.
Living with his mom (Squibb, outfitted in a running gag of T-shirts), Hubie bikes around town with his monitor sash slung across his chest and a thermos full of soup always in hand. He's regularly mocked by just about everyone in the town, young and old, but his old high-school torch (Julie Bowen, comically out of his league) is one of the few who recognize and value Hubie's sweetness. When a genuine mystery develops and people start going missing, Hubie is the first to recognize the danger. Having made police reports a hobby, the local cops (Kenan Thompson, James) have long learned to ignore his concerns.
It's all just an excuse for Sandler to do a funny voice and a bunch of pratfalls, but the voice is pretty funny and so are the pratfalls. Even the production design is a cut above what you're expect. But most of all, the ensemble of townspeople lend plenty of support. Is there anyone, really, who doesn't want to watch a movie with Steve Buscemi as a werewolf, Michael Chiklis as a cranky priest, Ray Liotta for some reason and Maya Rudolph dressed up as the Bride of Frankenstein playing the dissatisfied wife of Tim Meadows?
The jokes aren't often Sandler's best material but "Hubie Halloween" is as sweet and easily digestible as a Milky Way. After this, "Uncut Gems" and his best and most tender stand-up special ("100% Fresh," a title that references his normally low critic scores), the Sandler-verse is weirdly in a kind of perfect harmony. Maybe, too, we're more in need of some good, stupid fun right now, and "Hubie Halloween" is smart enough to do stupid just right. Steve Buscemi as a werewolf, at least, is an antidote to something.
"Hubie Halloween," a Netflix release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for crude and suggestive content, language and brief teen partying. Running time: 104 minutes. Three stars out of four.