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(2002) (voices of Adam Sandler, Jackie Titone) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After yet another infraction, a small town loser opts to assist the town's senior youth league basketball referee rather than go to prison.
In the town of Dukesberry, 33-year-old Davey Stone (voice of ADAM SANDLER) is the local jerk who was once a nice kid, but now hates himself, most everyone else and especially the holidays. Following a drunken rampage, which is hardly his first, the local Judge (voice of NORM CROSBY) is about to throw the book at Davey, but Whitey Duvall (voice of ADAM SANDLER) steps in to save him.

A diminutive fellow with a strange voice and uneven feet, the 69-year-old remembers when Davey was a good kid and the best basketball player around. Hoping he can make a difference, he asks the judge to sentence Davey to being his assistant referee in the youth basketball league. Davey is far from happy about the option, but it's better than being sent to prison for ten years.

While Whitey is interested in winning the 35th annual Dukesberry Patch for community service, Davey isn't interested in much although he likes how former childhood friend Jennifer (voice of JACKIE TITONE) looks even if she has a son, Benjamin (voice of AUSTIN STOUT). He and Davey eventually bond on the basketball court, but that doesn't prevent Davey from repeatedly being a jerk to most everyone else.

After arson consumes his trailer, however, Davey is forced to move in with Whitey and his reclusive and high-strung sister, Eleanor (voice of ADAM SANDLER). From that point on, Davey eventually begins to become a better person, but it won't be until he comes to grips with his past that he'll truly feel the spirit of the holidays.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
When the end of the year, holiday season rolls around, it's not unusual for the American airwaves to be filled with movies, TV shows and songs about Christmas. That's understandable, of course, since the majority of U.S. citizens come from Christian-based backgrounds.

Yet, there are sizable populations of other religious groups here as well, but you don't see much in the way of offerings highlighting their faith. Take, for instance, those of the Jewish persuasion. To my knowledge, there have been few if any movies or songs over the years about Hanukah.

Obviously sensing that void, comedian Adam Sandler delivered the Hanukah Song several years ago (as seen on "Saturday Night Live"), although it seemed more intent on delivering a who's who of those who are and aren't Jewish rather than focusing on the actual holiday itself.

Possibly inspired by the popularity of that song and its later revamped version, Sandler has now decided to fill the Hanukah movie void with "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights." A full-length animated effort, the film features Sandler ("Mr. Deeds," "Punch Drunk Love") in a variety of roles including that of producer, co-screenwriter and the voice of the three main characters.

Despite or because of that massive hands on involvement (depending on how you view the comedian's "normal" work), the film is a mess that offers only a handful of decent laughs. They're otherwise buried by all of the crude, sexual and other material that makes this a questionable holiday offering at best.

Maybe it's just me, but when I think of such entertainment, the likes of "It's a Wonderful Life" or "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" come to mind. Both feature unhappy or mean characters who undergo drastic character makeovers thanks to encountering and being swept away by the holiday spirit.

The same is supposed to hold true here as Sandler and co-screenwriters Brooks Arthur (making his writing debut), Allen Covert (ditto) and Brad Isaacs (making his feature film debut after TV writing) borrow that same sort of plot to show the main character - who's really just Sandler in animated form - going through a similar transformation.

Yet, I don't recall Jimmy Stewart or even the Grinch being up to their necks in scatological and other gross-out humor. In fact, it's hard to imagine who's going to see the film. It's far too risqué and crude for little kids, while older teens and adults may associate the animated offering with kids fare that's probably beneath them.

Those who do see it will likely compare the film to "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," not only due to the animated raunchiness, but also the subversive style of humor and various full-fledged musical numbers. The comparison unfortunately favors the far more inspired and cleverer work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone over that of Sandler and director Seth Kearsley (making his feature film debut).

While the film occasionally has a funny moment or line of dialogue (mostly in the songs), most of the efforts miss their marks. That is, unless you're an adolescent boy who loves Sandler's style of comedy in which case you might be in Heaven.

Beyond the standard Christmas Carol plot of a bad guy seeing the error of his ways, the rest of the story is quite lame and uninspired. In addition, the catalyst for the protagonist's change - in this case, simply being able to let go and cry - isn't exactly believable.

Vocal work is decent if often exaggerated by Sandler in his three personas (four if you count the helpful deer who repeatedly show up). Former "SNL" regulars Kevin Nealon ("Little Nicky," "Happy Gilmore"), Rob Schneider ("Hot Chick," "The Animal") and John Lovitz ("Rat Race," "Little Nicky") show up in smaller parts, while Jackie Titone ("Little Nicky," "Big Daddy") supplies the voice for one half of the uninspired love interest subplot.

As far as the animation is concerned, it's somewhere between that of big-budget animated efforts and the type that populates Saturday morning cartoons, meaning it's passable but unremarkable. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn't even manage to meet that description.

While there might be an audience for "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights" - which is the holiday equivalent to Sandler last pilfering "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" - I don't see it inspiring other Hanukah films let alone becoming a holiday classic.

That said, if you manage to last until the end credits, make sure you stick around for Sandler's new version of the Hanukah song, as it's the most entertaining and clever thing the film has to offer. Even so, it's too little and too late to salvage the effort that rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed November 25, 2002 / Posted November 27, 2002

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