It’s officially Spooky Season, but I’m a wuss when it comes to handling most contemporary horror movies, so instead I’m taking a look at a funny new Halloween movie – Netflix’s latest Adam Sandler film, Hubie Halloween – and a terrific, nerve-wracking new suspense series on Fox called Next from one of the top producers of the hit thriller series 24 and Dexter. You can’t ask for more wildly different shows, but they’re both great in their own way.
I had a level of dread heading into Hubie, because most of Sandler’s recent Netflix movies have been unwatchable. The laziness of last year’s Murder Mystery extends from the trite title on down. I gave up on The Do-Over (2016) halfway through because it was aggressively unpleasant, and I couldn’t even make it through all the stupidity after 10 minutes with The Ridiculous 6 (2015) and 2017’s Sandy Wexler (and I’m a huge fan of nearly all his early movies). Only The Week Of (2018) managed to be worth watching. (That’s five more reviews in two sentences!)
Thankfully, Hubie manages to recapture the silly magic of his initial superstardom in the late ’90s, when he made The Waterboy and Happy Gilmore, films that were grandly absurd and built around a ridiculous persona. Here Sandler plays Hubie, a middle-aged goofball loser with a heart of gold (surprise!) living in the famed witch-trial town of Salem, Mass., as he prepares to serve as an unofficial safety monitor for the town’s ample Halloween shenanigans.
Hubie speaks in a silly mumble, and most of the town utterly disrespects him – as shown in a very funny running gag with him dodging an array of objects relentlessly thrown at him while he bicycles through town. But Violet Valentine (played by Julie Bowen, Sandler’s love interest in Happy Gilmore) thinks he’s sweet, and Hubie’s mom (Jane Squibb) keeps telling him to stand up for himself.
He gets his chance on Halloween, when a seemingly dangerous mental patient escapes from a nearby institution as Hubie encounters a mild-mannered but very odd new neighbor (played by frequent co-star Steve Buscemi in yet another great role as Sandler’s comic foil). With a wild high school party raging and hundreds of trick-or-treating children loose on the streets, he’s already got his hands full – but when people start disappearing before his very eyes, Hubie has to convince the skeptical sheriff (Kevin James in a hilarious fake beard and mullet) that the town finally is in real danger.
Part of the fun in any Sandler comedy is watching the comic cornucopia of his supporting cast, which this time includes appearances by Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Ben Stiller, Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Liotta and Rob Schneider, in addition to Buscemi and Bowen. While his supporting regulars are often poorly used, this movie gives every one of them multiple moments to shine.
Sandler co-wrote the script with his longtime colleague Tim Herlihy, and director Steven Brill, a frequent collaborator, finally delivers a truly fun movie (he was responsible for The Do-Over and Sandy Wexler). The laughs come flying a mile a minute, and one particularly funny running gag was the series of dirty message T-shirts Hubie’s mom wears throughout, utterly clueless to their double entendres. Overall, this is something fun that anyone willing to turn off their mind and have a laugh can enjoy, and kids will love it too.
Next is a welcome return to the pulse-pounding thriller genre by Fox, created by ace 24 Executive Producer Manny Coto as an eight-episode “event series.” The sci-fi crime drama stars John Slattery of Mad Men fame as Paul LeBlanc, a billionaire hi-tech developer who was ousted from the company he ran with his brother Ted (Jason Butler Harner) several months earlier because he wanted to stop development of an artificial intelligence (AI) project called Next.
As the show kicks off, Dr. Richard Weiss (John Billingsley) is running for his life from an unseen pursuer, which turns out to be the Next program gone haywire as it tracks him via his cellphone; Next eventually takes over the computer of a nearby car, forcing it to crash into Richard’s, killing everyone in both cars. A note is found on Richard that reveals he was heading to see Paul, and soon an FBI agent named Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade) is questioning Paul about their connection.
Paul convinces Shea to accompany him to Palo Alto to confront Ted about Next. There he finds that the AI monster has grown infinitely more advanced than it had been months earlier, when it already terrified him. Ted tries to assuage his concerns by assuring Paul that Next has no access to the internet, which would have vastly increased its knowledge and provided a conduit for it to control technology the world over.
What they don’t know is that a programmer has secretly provided Next with a router giving it that dangerous wi-fi access, with limitless destructive possibilities. One of those dangers is about to hit close to home, when Shea’s young son Ethan receives evil instructions from his Alexa-like device, Iliza.
Next is riveting and wonderfully complex, and it brings back the genius hooks of 24 by following at least four compelling plotlines at any one time. Slattery makes a terrific lead, especially when responding to Shea’s shock in learning that he has a degenerative brain disease that might render his judgment suspect.
The rest of the cast are fresh faces, which makes the story even easier to buy, as viewers aren’t saddled with expectations of veteran stars with established images. This week’s pilot was aces from start to finish, and I highly recommend catching up on it on Fox.com and hanging in for the rest of its run.