Last week I drove to the Grand Canyon. On the way I watched Hubie Halloween. It’s fine, actually.
Hubie Halloween is the latest movie from the fruitful partnership between Netflix and Adam Sandler. Since 2016 the comedian has starred in six films for the streamer as part of an ongoing relationship that has brought his production company hundreds of millions of dollars. Netflix is clearly excited about the deal; Sandler’s movies are apparently among the most watched on the service, and earlier this year the company extended the original four-movie agreement to include four more Sandler originals.
Critics, largely, haven’t been nearly as enthusiastic. Not a single one of Sandler’s six Netflix films has a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The average score for these movies on the review aggregator is just under 26%. (This doesn’t count Noah Baumbach’s Netflix original The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which stars Sandler but was not produced by his production company and is not a part of its deal with Netflix.) Most tellingly, the brilliant minds at Paste Magazine haven’t added a single one of these movies to their list of the best comedies on Netflix.
I’ll be honest: I hadn’t seen any of these movies until watching Hubie Halloween last week. And I’m somebody who, at one time, was absolutely the target demo for Adam Sandler: I was in middle school when he started on Saturday Night Live, was in high school when he released his first comedy album and made the jump into movies, and continued to enjoy his movies into the 21st century, when many early fans started to lose interest in them. I eventually stopped watching the annual stream of Sandler films at some point in the mid ‘00s, outside of the occasional “serious” role, and by the time that original Netflix deal kicked off in 2016 I was thoroughly out of the Sandler loop.
Those early Netflix movies—The Ridiculous 6, The Do-Over, Sandy Wexler—looked every bit as lazy and indulgent as Sandler’s rep had become. All respect to somehow turning your work into a way to hang out with old friends, but stuff like Grown Ups and Blended were clearly more fun for Sandler and company to make than it was for anybody to actually watch. The Netflix deal seemed to move the bar even lower; now Sandler and his buddies could hang out in front of the cameras a few weeks a year and not even have to worry about the box office. Why fret about making a movie that’s actually good or funny even remotely competent at that point?
At least that’s what I assumed. Other than a few surprisingly respectful reviews of Sandy Wexler, nothing about any of these Netflix movies struck me as the least bit interesting. Until I found myself in a hotel room in Little Rock during the pandemic, still early in the night but after the first leg of a three-day drive. What else are you going to do when it’s 9 p.m. in a strange town where you can’t really go anywhere, other than watch the new Adam Sandler Halloween comedy on Netflix?
I’m not going to say that Hubie Halloween is some secret masterpiece. I’m not even sure if it’s good, overall. Like I’ve said, it’s fine. I definitely enjoyed it, and not just because it surpassed my nonexistent expectations. It might lack the passion that Sandler’s early comedies have (and, yes, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, and others have legit passion behind them), but it has heart. Despite a bit of raunch and the mean-spirited mistreatment of Sandler’s latest weirdo hero, there’s an unmistakable sweetness at its core that makes it hard to dislike. It’s also full of the kind of absurdity that marked Sandler’s earliest movies, from Steve Buscemi’s turn as a friendly werewolf, to Shaquille O’Neal’s unusual cameo.
Does the story even try to make sense? Of course not. Do Sandler’s friends pop up regularly in roles that don’t really require anything from them other than that first moment of recognition? Absolutely. Does a beautiful woman inexplicably fall in love with Sandler’s not-quite-right manchild? Yes, although legit respect to Sandler for consistently casting actresses of his own generation as his love interests. Does it all feel like an excuse for Sandler to hang out with his friends in a cool town (don’t let the goofy witch fixation fool you—Salem, Mass., has a great museum, some good restaurants, beautiful waterfront views, and a liquor store called the Bunghole)? Sure, but can you blame him? Again, don’t hold it against Sandler that he’s learned how to make the system work for him.
Granted, the situation in which I watched Hubie Halloween was ideal. I had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and the only other thing on TV was Saturday Night Live, which, in 2020, is exponentially worse than even the worst Sandler movie. Still, I was surprised by how totally okay it is. I was so unoffended by it that I’m now thinking of going back through his other Netflix movies, at least the ones that friends vouch for—Murder Mystery and Sandy Wexler, mostly. (Not even a Little Rock hotel room could get me to watch The Ridiculous 6.)
If you, too, have been wondering about Adam Sandler’s Netflix movies, here’s one man’s opinion: Hubie Halloween is a perfectly acceptable movie when you have a couple of hours to kill in a hotel room in Little Rock. Should we really expect anything more from Adam Sandler, 25 years into his career as a movie star?
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.