Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.

I’ve often wondered what it is that makes for a classic Christmas movie. For every National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, there’s a dozen more [insert Hallmark Channel movie title here]. The holidays are such a subjective experience, but there has to be something at the core of every successful holiday movie that helps it stand the test of time. Some, like It’s A Wonderful Life, succeed because of their inherent darkness. Some, like Elf, embrace holiday schmaltz and use it to tell a more cheerful story. To Adam Sandler’s credit, there aren’t any Hanukkah movies that come to mind much less animated ones.

It’s about the only thing that stands out about Eight Crazy Nights, which isn’t to say the film is unsuccessful in at least some of its efforts. While the film may not be the funniest or the most nuanced, it at least gets the Spirit of the Holidays angle mostly right. What’s strange, though, is that the holiday of Hanukkah has very little to do with the heft of the film. My knowledge of the Jewish faith may be a little rusty, but I can recall that Hanukkah is a celebration of lasting faith and hope in times of doubt. An argument could be made that those themes are on display in the film, but it would, at best, be a strained one. I’ve never written a single script in my life, either, but even I would think that framing the film as an eight-day journey of redemption would be an interesting device. Instead, the film opens halfway through the titular holiday. It is refreshing to see Hanukkah as the center of a holiday film, but Sandler could’ve done more to give it the spotlight, especially knowing how outspoken and proud he is about his Jewish heritage.

Eight Crazy Nights remains the first and only hand-drawn animated film in the Happy Madison filmography. The animation format had to have emerged not only as a logistical necessity but a creative one as well. Eight Crazy Nights was the third feature film starring Adam Sandler to be released in 2002, so Sandler surely had his hands full. Animation obviously gives the creative team a chance to portray actions that are difficult or impossible when filming live. There isn’t a lot that Eight Crazy Nights does to exploit its animated trappings, though, outside of a fantastical song in a mall. (Honestly, there are several musical numbers that could afford the film an easy transition to Broadway.)

Although the story — in which Davey Stone (voiced by Sandler) has to stay out of trouble while living and working with the town’s elderly volunteer referee, Whitey (also voiced by Sandler) — is fairly standard, it stands out in the dark turns it takes with Davey. Here is a side of Sandler we’ve never seen before; the actor does tend to gravitate toward sad-sacks or losers, but those are aspects that are ingrained in their DNA. There’s a much darker origin to Davey Stone’s moping: He was a kid with a once-promising future until he lost his parents and became consumed by grief. Sadness can be an inescapable part of the holidays for most people, so it’s refreshing to see a Happy Madison film with a less rosy view of the world. The darkness may be a little too muted to really make a lasting impression — the film was rated PG-13 whereas an R rating could have shown something a little more raw — but this is easily HM’s darkest film so far.

Every Happy Madison film has to have a requisite Happy Ending, and while Eight Crazy Nights mostly nails the sentiment it aims for in the finale — when Whitey earns his coveted patch from the town — it doesn’t do the necessary hard work to earn it. Davey’s turn to the good side feels too abrupt and telegraphed for any lasting emotional resonance. It is refreshing, though, to see a Sandler film where Sandler not only takes a backseat to another character (in a roundabout way), but makes the latter a fully realized person.

Maybe Sandler assumes we’ve done our homework and already know the origin story of Hanukkah. Maybe he assumes we don’t care and just want to see some jokes about fat people. Give Eight Crazy Nights another title and I don’t think anything changes. But without a fresh angle to tell the story, the film just ends up as another non-denominational holiday checklist.

  • “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Tyra Banks makes a voice appearance as a Victoria’s Secret dress for the musical number. No disrespect to her, but you know you’re in trouble when the biggest catch you can get for a cameo in your movie is Tyra Banks.
  • Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. The product placement angle has largely been underrepresented so far, but the moment early on when each of the stores in the mall gets a clearly paid-for shoutout is a nice reminder of what really pays the bills at HM Productions. I thought for a second that Whitey was going to launch into a song about the over-commercialization of the holidays, but it turns out it’s just a setup for the song later when all the logos come to life.
  • Fart Joke Counter: Just one, plus plenty of gross body humor.
  • The Walkout Test: Fail. This is a movie where a sweet little old man gets trapped in a Porta Potty, covered in poop and frozen solid until a family of deer unthaws him with their tongues and we get a close-up of their poop-stained teeth. I really wish I hadn’t just typed that sentence.
  • The budget for this film was $34 million and yet it doesn’t appear Sandler hired any animators that were able to sync up the recordings with the movements of the characters’ mouths.
  • UP NEXT: Rob Schneider, Rachel McAdams and Anna Faris get into some wacky shenanigans in the body-swap comedy The Hot Chick.