According to my wall calendar, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. I’m not Jewish, and I don’t celebrate Hanukkah, but as Crackle made Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights available, I thought I might check out the animated film for today’s review. I did wonder if, as a Gentile, I might miss out on some of the references. I needn’t have been concerned; though the film pays a degree of lip service to both Hanukkah and Christmas (to the point of setting it in a year where the 8th day of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve) it does so in a very light manner. One doesn’t need to know or understand the traditions of either holiday to watch this film.
It is, however, important that one knows that despite being an animated holiday film, this is not “family friendly”; it’s rated PG-13 for a good reason, and shows Adam Sandler’s usual crass humor.
Yes, somebody’s about to take an unpleasant ride.
Seth Kearsley, whose prior work includes the Dilbert animated series directs, but this is naturally Adam Sandler’s show, and is produced by his company Happy Madison. Sandler stars as Davey Stone, who is drawn to look exactly like Sandler, and is voiced with Sandler’s normal voice. Davey is a man in his early thirties, disillusioned with life, bitter about the holidays, and misanthropic to the point of being a career petty criminal. Brought before the local judge for his latest incident, Davey is about to be sentenced to 10 years in federal penitentiary when one of the locals speaks up on his behalf. Whitey Duvall, a wizened old man who like many of the townsfolk remembers the good kid Davey used to be, asks to have Davey assigned to him to assist in the youth basketball league. Whitey is also voiced by Sandler, and Sandler has unfortunately chosen to throw in just about every obnoxious trait he can into the character. He speaks with an irritatingly high-pitched voice, he’s shorter than most children, has massive body hair and differently-sized feet, and has epileptic seizures any time he gets too excited. All of this is played for attempts at laughs. Yes, even the epilepsy. I’m not sure what kind of person finds helpless seizures funny in general, or what circumstances would make a normal person find a seizure funny, but I’m not that kind of person and these aren’t that kind of circumstance.
Despite the very low-brow and attempts at humor-through-offense, there are actually some decent laughs in the film, sometimes even with the low-brow humor. When Whitey invites Davey into the home he shares with his sister Eleanor (also voiced by Adam Sandler), they go into a song and dance routine over the rules of the house and all the gross things Davey would do that would constitute a “technical foul”. It’s actually fairly funny in its delivery. There are other songs in the film as well, some of which are all right, but none which reach quite the level of that song. It’s hampered a fair amount by the fact that Sandler, despite having largely founded his stand-up and sketch comic career on music, really isn’t a particularly good singer even when he’s not distorting his voice for some of the characters. Aside from his singing the quality of the songs is rather hit and miss. The opening song, and one in which Davey thinks back on his youth, are both pretty good. Another near the end which is supposed to start a dramatic moment fails a bit due to the poor choice of opening music, and the ode Whitey sings to the glories of the mall is one of the most blatant bits of product placement I’ve ever seen. It’s essentially a list of common stores and what their businesses are.
With big helpful close-ups of their logos so you can recognize them when you go to your own mall.
Sandler isn’t the only voice actor in the film, though he’s certainly the main one. Jackie Titone (now married to Sandler and using his surname) provides the voice of Jennifer, Davey’s childhood sweetheart and now single mother of Benjamin (Austin Stout), one of the players in Whitey’s youth basketball league. Kevin Nealon provides the voice of the town mayor, and Norm Crosby the judge. And Rob Schneider provides the voice of the narrator; I’d say it’s one of his better roles, being the least obnoxious, but he also voices a caricature of a Chinese restaurant owner, so it’s really a bit of wash.
I don’t really need to go into the details of the plot much. It’s a holiday story, featuring a guy who is a jerk, his ex-girlfriend, and somebody who thinks he can be redeemed. Everybody knows where it’s headed from the first minutes. There aren’t any surprises here, and if anything it’s actually a little thin on plot; the resolutions near the end feel a bit sudden.
And yet, despite all the film’s numerous issues, I can’t say that it’s truly a bad film. I wouldn’t recommend to parents of young children, of course — and in truth I’m not sure what audience this is aiming for, except perhaps for the late teen crowd. But while its plot is simple, it works and is reasonably entertaining. There are a few laughs along the way even for people who aren’t fans of gross-out humor. There’s a lot more of the gross-out humor, mind you, so it’s certainly better for regular Sandler fans, but a non-Sandler fan probably isn’t going to hate it, though they might not care for a repeat viewing.