You already know the 12 Days Of Christmas, with its drummers drumming and partridges and gold rings, but we here at The A.V. Club like to take everything one step further, for your reading pleasure. Hence, 13 Days Of Christmas, a collection of essays on a handful of beloved holiday classics and a few that have sadly fallen through the cracks. Up today, Adam Sandler's animated would-be Hanukah classic.
When small, undiscriminating audiences wasted money to see Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights in theaters back in 2002—when the film had one of the lowest grosses of any Sandler vehicle to date—they probably imagined they were going to see the Sandler of “The Hanukah Song,” a lovable, proudly Jewish goof doing his part to give Jewish kids oppressed by the ubiquity of Christmas fare every winter a holiday tradition of their own, tongue-in-cheek or not. Instead, audiences got the rancid, smutty Sandler that would one day give the world That’s My Boy and Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star.
Eight Crazy Nights, which was given a hard PG-13 for prominently featuring beloved holiday staples like “frequent crude and sexual humor, drinking, and brief drug references,” boldly defies the conventions of holiday movies in ways that might seem audacious if the end product weren’t so repellent and joyless. Instead of filling Sandler’s cinematic lump of coal with beauty, warmth, or appealing characters, the film specializes in ugliness of all kinds. The character designs make the protagonist’s hapless spiritual mentor Whitey (voiced, like many of the other characters, by Sandler in full nails-on-chalkboard, can-you-believe-how-shrill-and-obnoxious-this-sounds? mode) look like a cross between Hans Moleman and a shriveled Mickey Rooney. The protagonist, meanwhile, is less a lovable loser in the classic Sandler tradition than an alcoholic, verbally abusive asshole whose redemption is phonier and more pandering than a Hanukah bush.
Like many of Sandler’s worst films, Eight Crazy Nights feels like an inside joke between the star and his buddies, many of whom voice the film’s characters. They forget, however, to let the audience in on the joke, and the film becomes a painful gauntlet of irritating voices paired to grotesque, pathetic characters Sandler seems to imagine audiences will find endearing even when Sandler clearly doesn’t.
Eight Crazy Nights concerns Davey, a 33-year-old alcoholic slacker who used to be a nice, overachieving Jewish boy, a consummate mensch even, until his saintly parents died in a car accident during Hanukah while en route to Davey’s big basketball game. Davey never recovered, instantly morphing from an athletic golden boy to a holiday-hating juvenile delinquent. Eight Crazy Nights needlessly puts off explaining the maudlin cause for Davey’s misanthropy, alcoholism, and Scrooge-like hatred of the holidays for maximum dramatic impact (in theory at least), though it’s unclear why such a crude, lowbrow comedy needs tragedy at its core. It’s almost as if Sander and his familiar collaborators didn’t really know what they were doing.
After Davey goes on a destructive spree that affords Rob Schneider yet another opportunity to crudely impersonate an Asian stereotype (in this case, a Chinese restaurant proprietor on whom Davey skips out on without paying his bill), Davey ends up doing community service, helping referee children’s basketball under the tutelage of kindly 70-year-old volunteer referee Whitey, who is as selfless and filled with the non-denominational holiday spirit as Davey is mean and full of humbug.
Davey is at first as horrible to Whitey—a walking punchline for the whole community despite his decades of charitable service—as he is to himself and everyone else. He eventually comes to appreciate Whitey’s fundamental kindness and irrepressible good cheer, however, while simultaneously bonding with one of the young boys he’s coaching and the boy’s attractive, single mother (voiced, in an especially self-indulgent touch, by Sandler’s wife, though Alison Krauss provides her singing voice). They have a history, too: Decades earlier, she was Davey’s childhood sweetheart before his parent’s tragic death pushed him to the dark side.
In a drunken haze, Davey breaks into a mall and receives tough love and life lessons when the corporate mascots of the mall’s stores come alive and tell him to shape up his act. The sequence climaxes with the corporate mascots (understandably depicted as a force for good in the universe) bringing out the big guns: a talking Hanukah card from Davey’s dead parents that reconnects him with the lovely, sweet little boy he used to be.
Davey is eventually redeemed, but Eight Crazy Nights is beyond redemption. It’s a bizarrely sour holiday comedy that only shows a pulse during its surprisingly punchy musical numbers. Otherwise, Eight Crazy Nights manages to make 76 padded minutes feel like eight interminable nights spent inside the ugliest recesses of Sandler’s sophomoric imagination. Typical nuggets of dialogue in this would-be Hanukah perennial include “Eat my nutstrap, bee-yatch,” “Maybe on the fourth night, the Hanukah monster will come and take a big crap on your bed,” and “The worst has happened. I’m covered in human feces!” Sandler might have imagined he was making a Jewish Bad Santa, a raunchy dark comedy about a curmudgeon redeemed by his relationship with an innocent little boy. Instead, it’s just bad.
Monday: A mostly forgotten holiday special from a children’s entertainment master.