Like a crappy flippant version of The Giving Tree, Adam Sandler’s seemingly-mandatory 2002 animated Hanukkah comedy Eight Crazy Nights has been there for me throughout my adult life, always ready to let me down and disappoint. Eight Crazy Nights first failed me as a film critic, Jew, and human being when I reviewed it during its theatrical run. Even by the low standards of a Happy Madison production, it was a near-unwatchable nightmare overflowing with curdled contempt for the common folk who are confusingly both the Saturday Night Live alum’s biggest fans and the target of most of the jokes in pervasively, perversely mean-spirited comedies like this and the Grown-Ups movies.
Adam Sandler seems to labor under the delusion that because he is such a famously likable fellow in real life, and has such a friendly, accessible image as a lovable goofball made good that audiences should be able to both root for him and find him funny when he plays vicious, irredeemable bullies. Eight Crazy Nights failed me anew every time I re-watched for a career rooted in writing about the very worst pop culture has to offer and it stubbornly refused to get any better with time or repetition. Re-watching Eight Crazy Nights has become a perverse holiday tradition for me: I inexplicably feel the need to revisit it just to make sure it’s as worthless and surreally misconceived as I remember.
Most significantly, Eight Crazy Nights is currently failing me as a father who would love to be able to show his two and six-year-old boys Eight Crazy Nights as irrefutable proof that Christians do not, in fact, have a monopoly on good holiday movies. The enduring awfulness of Eight Crazy Nights affects me disproportionately as a Jewish dad because there is so little in the way of Hanukkah entertainment for children that if you want to show your kid something Hanukkah-themed it’s basically this or the Rugrats holiday special. One of the many, many things that make Eight Crazy Nights a terrible movie to watch with your small Jewish children as a modest antidote to the assaultive nature of Christmas entertainment is that it’s not really for children. It’s a “family” movie that’s almost impressively non-family-friendly.
Eight Crazy Nights earns its PG-13 rating with unrelenting crudeness, a plot that traffics tastelessly in alcoholism, adolescent trauma, suicidal depression and the violent deaths of parents and in Davey Stone (Adam Sandler), a deeply unlikeable anti-hero who is a kleptomaniac, a hopeless drunk, a vandal, verbally abusive and an all-around horrible human being.
Within the context of Eight Crazy Nights, Davey is supposed to be a Grinch/Scrooge-like figure, a hurricane of humbug who despises himself, the world and the holiday season for reasons the movie hints at sadistically throughout its first half, relentlessly teasing us before artlessly revealing that the reason Davey doesn’t dig the festival of lights is BECAUSE HIS PARENTS DIED IN A VIOLENT CAR CRASH DRIVING TO ONE OF HIS BASKETBALL GAMES AS A BOY.
That’s way too dark and disturbing for a kid’s animated holiday movie but Eight Crazy Nights uses the brutal, wildly inappropriate trauma its protagonist experienced as a happy, well-adjusted boy to explain and excuse the drunken, abusive monster he’s become.
After committing only the latest in a series of drunken crimes, Davey is saved by the kindness of Whitey Duvall (Sandler, with a shrill, nasal “funny” voice that wears out its welcome the moment it’s introduced), a volunteer referee who has suffered the torments of Job yet retains a Christ-like selflessness. Eight Crazy Nights’ stock message about how you shouldn’t make fun of people for looking and acting different or for being poor can’t help but ring a hollow considering that all of its failed attempts at humor are rooted in making fun of its characters for looking and acting different or for being poor and acting weird.
The filmmakers spend 65 minutes cruelly mocking poor Whitey for being short, for having so much hair on his body that when he takes off his shirt he looks like an albino gorilla, for having one foot that is strikingly, distractingly, and I would imagine very painfully larger than the other and various other physical shortcomings it finds innately hilarious, before deciding that at the very end that he actually represents the very best in humanity. Eight Crazy Nights is even more brutal towards Whitey’s sister Eleanore (Sandler, using the exact same nails-on-chalkboard as Whitey only somehow worse and more insufferable), who is “comically” diminutive, massively overweight, bald, old and a laughingstock to everyone who encounters her.
Eight Crazy Nights offers a toxic, very Adam Sandler combination of fat-shaming, casual racism (Rob Schneider does double duty as the narrator and Mr. Chang, the grotesquely stereotypical proprietor of a Chinese restaurant with an accent as thick as Mickey Rooney’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and an inexplicable penchant for taking off his shirt), mean-spiritedness and product placement in the form of a mall where the various mascots from real-life chains like Sharper Image and Victoria’s Secret come alive, kick ass and teach life lessons. 8 Crazy Nights is not wholly devoid of redeeming qualities. The original songs scattered throughout border on clever and possess at least some element of holiday whimsy. So it perhaps fitting that Sandler’s crappy gift to Jewish children peaks during its end credits, when the misanthropic ugliness of both the animation and the storytelling comes to a merciful end and Sandler stops torturing audiences long enough to reward them with the latest incarnation of“The Chanukah Song.”
The weirdly inspired, lasting joke of “The Chanukah Song” is that it has next to next to nothing to do with the holiday itself, and instead concerns itself with making Jewish kids feel less alone during Christmastime by humorously chronicling the many, many Jews involved with show-business. This live rendition of the third incarnation of “The Chanukah Song” possesses a quality desperately lacking from the movie it’s tacked onto: the child-like sense of joy Sandler derives from being silly and the enduring consolation that Jews and their beloved rituals may be damn near invisible culturally during Christmastime but we’re nevertheless a people who have accomplished great things, including, ironically, writing most of the good Christmas songs.
Eight Crazy Nights is comparatively joyless. Like its loathsome anti-hero/villain, its only happiness and pleasure comes from mocking the less fortunate at Christmastime. 8 Crazy Nights climaxes on Christmas Eve, so in addition to being an insultingly awful Chanukah movie, it’s sort of a crappy Christmas movie as well. In a few transcendently goofy minutes of celebration, this version of “The Chanukah Song” accomplishes what 8 Crazy Nights does not, and cannot, making Jewish kids feel accepted and validated and part of a cool club during a time of the year when they’re inclined to feel even more like outsiders than usual.
In that spirit, I encourage you not to be a moronica, and don’t watch Eight Crazy Nights for Hanukkah. Nothing good can come of it, for you or children who deserve much, much better. Everyone does.