If you happen to be an Adam Sandler fan who is unaware that the comedian is Jewish, this film is for you. Virtually every single joke in it offers a lesson about Jewish culture and upbringing, beginning with those eight crazy nights of Hanukah. Just to be even-handed, Sandler throws in an occasional Christmas gag as well.
This film joins John Q, Collision Course and Killing Me Softly as one of the strangest movies of 2002. It is animated but definitely not for kids, replete as it is with gross jokes about excretion, excessive bodily hair and transvestism. It comes on like a cross between the bad taste approach of South Park (without the social satire) and the sickly, sanctimonious Disney style.
Sandler voices all the main characters, which ends up sounding exactly like one person talking to himself for seventy-six minutes. Davey is a bitter chap who scorns all religious celebrations and represses the memory of his dearly departed parents. Only an elderly brother-sister couple, Whitey and Eleanor, stand a chance of bringing Davey back to his civic minded, affable self.
There is also a single-mother-with-child lurking, in order to provide one of those instant family units which Sandler is so fond of manoeuvring into his storylines, as in Big Daddy (1999).
In an odd way, Eight Crazy Nights grew on me – and also on the other two other punters who happened to be present at the public session I attended. The musical segments take a little while to warm up, but "Technical Foul", detailing all the things Davey must not do in Eleanor and Whitey's house (such as show off his "morning erection"), is a treat.
As his rather awful remake of Mr Deeds (2002) proved, Sandler as would-be auteur is determined to become a modern-day Frank Capra. This means that, alongside the zany vulgarity, there is a militant strain of old-fashioned sentimentality leading to a big scene of public confession and redemption. The strangest thing of all is that this shameless, emotional manipulation works rather well.
For Sandler aficionados there are two bonuses at either side of Eight Crazy Nights: an amateurish, home-movie featurette devoted to a raunchy day in the life of his dog, Meatball, and a rousing, concert performance over the final credits of what the press kit refers to as Sandler's "beloved and classic Hanukah song", containing, as he puts it, "some new rhymes about different Jewish people".
© Adrian Martin December 2002