REVIEW: Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights
Produced by: Adam Sandler, Allen Covert, Jack Giarraputo, Brooks Arthur
Written by: Adam Sandler, Allen Covert, Brooks Arhtur, Brad Isaacs
Edited by: Amy Budden
Music by: Teddy Castellucci, Marc Ellis, Ray Ellis
Starring: Adam Sandler, Jackie Titone, Austin Stout, Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon, Norm Crosby, Jon Lovitz, Dylan Sprouse, Cole Sprouse, Tyra Banks, Blake Clark, Peter Dante, Ellen Albertini Dow, Kevin Farley, Lari Friedman, Tom Kenny, Carl Weathers, Allison Krauss
Christmas overshadows most other holidays that take place during this time of year. This is particularly because it’s unofficially considered to be a “season” rather than just a specific day. Christmas is also less of a cultural thing, as it’s essentially a global holiday that is celebrated by people who aren’t even Christian. More specifically cultural holidays, like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or, uh… Boxing Day… are thus given less attention. This despite the fact that Hanukkah is actually a longer celebration. That being said, it’s not like it’s completely hidden in the shadows in obscurity – we’ve all heard about it, even if we’re not Jewish ourselves – so it’s always been kind of puzzling why we haven’t seen very many films centered around the holiday. Perhaps it’s because studio executives think that the subject matter would isolate too many people from the potential audience? That really must be it since, you know, money. It’s not like there haven’t been films about Jewish people, but their holidays? Not so much. Cultural sensitivity be damned, I guess? … Of course, there are always ways of getting around such things. Like, for instance, cashing in on a big name star. Someone like… Adam Sandler.
It’s safe to say that Sandler is one of the most bankable comedians of the past two decades, even if his comedies have been critically considered to be not all that comedic. Or good. Starting on Saturday Night Live, Sandler made a name for himself as an affable goofball, and he quickly launched this into a career in movies. Within a few years, Sandler would go on to star in popular films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy (based on one of his most notable SNL characters), and Big Daddy. The money he earned from these projects helped him to establish his own studio, Happy Madison Productions, which would churn out a number of lowbrow comedies that continue to be inflicted upon audiences to this day – many of them not even starring Sandler. As it would happen, Happy Madison would also be the only studio to produce a major theatrical release centered around the Hanukkah holiday: Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights – which also happened to cash in on Sandler’s success on SNL by titling itself after a lyric in “The Chanukah Song” series. The resulting film is about as good as you could expect a film based on a novelty song that lists off a bunch of Jewish celebrities to be.
Sandler plays Davey Stone, the town drunk and an all-around asshole who takes pleasure in the suffering and pain of others because of his own disdain for himself, as he admits in the film’s opening song (By the way, this crude animated comedy for adults is also a musical!). When Davey finds himself in trouble with the law, Whitey Duvall, the kindly, awkward, deformed, and squeaky-voiced old man who used to coach Davey’s childhood basketball team (also voiced by Sandler), volunteers to take Davey into his home in the holiday spirit to ensure that he serves community service, rather than let him face time in prison for his misdeeds. Davey continues to be a jerk, however, and takes pleasure in abusing Whitey, despite his inherent kindness towards Davey. But when an old flame comes back into his life, Davey begins to connect with her lonely son, which ultimately forces him to confront his own past and sets him on a path towards his inevitable redemption.
Superficially, the story of Eight Crazy Nights is a pretty predictable one, making it a pretty generic but also safely relatable movie for anyone watching, regardless of faith. It could have easily been given a Christmas focus without losing much in the process, and I think that’s pretty much the point of it. Most of the imagery in the film is pretty much made up of Christmas imagery, while Jewish iconography, while not completely absent from the town’s festivities, are still largely overshadowed by Christmas iconography. Davey also is feeling like a loner, still suffering from a past trauma that also coincidentally is tied directly to Hanukkah as well as to Jennifer. So, much like Christmas, the holiday is now associated with depression for Davey… that is, until the character learns the true meaning of the holiday, etc. I guess the joke is that we’ve all kind of diluted our sacred holidays, but there’s no reason why we can’t turn it around? How nice and safe.
Less nice and safe, however, are all the other elements that give the film its defiant PG-13 rating. Yes, that is the one area where the film deviates from the norm – it’s not really a family film so much as a film intended for teenagers and likeminded adults to watch on their own for the immature humor. Eight Crazy Nights is famously, uncompromisingly mean-spirited in its humor, taking the usual Happy Madison pleasure in poking fun at people’s physical deformities, particularly when it comes to Whitey and his twin sister. At one point, Davey knocks a porta-potty occupied by Whitey down a hill, covering him in excrement, and then freezes him solid with a hose, just for the hell of it. I’m normally okay with cartoon violence and such, and even mean-spirited humor can be amusing with the right touch – timing, cleverness, or funny faces even. None of that is present in the gag. All it is is Davey being a cruel jerk to an annoying but otherwise kind man, and we’re supposed to laugh at it because, ha, poop? The gag continues when some giggling deer come to Whitey’s rescue and lick him free, proudly displaying their poop-filled smiles in the process in a fourth wall breaking moment. It’s at least smirk-worthy by comparison to most of the other jokes, just because of the absurdity that a filmmaking team put all that work into scripting it and then animating it.
It doesn’t help that the movie wants us to still ostensibly be on Davey’s side, even down to how he’s drawn. While the movie spends time making fun of people and their issues, Davey is basically a physically idealistic version of Sandler himself – skilled at basketball and possessing a perfectly toned body, as we see in a shirts vs. skins match where he bets one guy into eating the jockstrap of a morbidly obese guy. This could’ve been used to illustrate Davey’s superficiality, but the movie so obviously wants us to laugh at them while seeing this as a scene of Davey’s potential rather than a flaw. It just makes the film that much more unpleasant. Other things making the movie worse: more pooping as a punchline, some peeing, racial stereotypes, unnecessary and annoyingly expositional Rob Schneider narration, terrible songs, Sandler’s obnoxious “funny” voices (sometimes while singing), and unapologetic product placement.
At least the revenues from the product placement might account for the unexpectedly high quality animation that’s been wasted on this movie. I’m not even kidding about that. There are some very pretty, very detailed backgrounds here, and everything is so very fluid and characters remarkably expressive. Oddly enough, this is apparent in any one of Whitey’s seizures during the film. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the animators do a good job with the material that they were hired to produce, so, you know, kudos to them for doing it so well with the crap they were given – both literal and figurative
This movie’s existence would’ve been more forgivable had it actually been a clever, witty, funny, touching, intelligent, or even just consistently malicious movie throughout. There’s very little in the film that rings true. The movie can’t ever seem to find a tone or rhythm to adhere to, and so we get scenes like the one where the Panda Express panda, the Footlocker referee, and a Victoria’s Secret gown teach our loathsome protagonist about moving on from his trauma, as voiced by some of Sandler’s celebrity friends. The guys behind the scenes obviously wanted to make something both funny and moving, but Eight Crazy Nights fails in both regards. It also fails to bring Hanukkah to the masses, too. The film actually didn’t do so well at the box office, critics generally hated it, judging by its 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and it’s not exactly become the popular annual film that the filmmakers wanted. It’s a shame, because here was a bankable star who simultaneously featured in what remains his best role that same year in Punch-Drunk Love, and here he had the opportunity to introduce the non-practicing masses to the holiday, and the resulting film was this pile. Sandler shouldn’t feel, too bad, though. It’s not like us Christians are doing much better with our own holiday. Better luck next time, dude?
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0.5 / 5