Little Nicky (2000)
Directed by Steven Brill
Cast: Adam Sandler, Harvey Keitel, Rhys Ifans, Patricia Arquette, Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr., Rodney Dangerfield, Reese Witherspoon, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, John Lovitz, Quentin Tarantino, Michael McKean, Clint Howard, Ellen Cleghorne, Dana Carvey, Ozzy Osbourne.
2000 84 minutes
Rated: (for violence, nudity, sexual situations, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 11, 2000.
Adam Sandler movies are easily an acquired taste--aside from almost all young teenage boys, who eat them up--and with every film he makes where he plays a normal guy whose ability to make audiences laugh comes from his charisma and talent, there are at least two movies that rely on him to be quirky and intellectually deficient, complete with a speech impediment. "Little Nicky," directed by Steven Brill, falls into the latter, lesser category, as his title character walks with a hunched-over back, has a crooked mouth, and, yes, a speech impediment. Sandler can be a great comic, but only with the right material, and when he doesn't try so hard. Here, he is afforded no help by the lame, forgettable screenplay that he cowrote with Tim Herlihy and director Brill. Is "Little Nicky" funny? Sometimes. But in the annals of the wildly popular Sandler flicks, this one falls into the same league as 1998's "The Waterboy"--better than 1995's stupefying "Billy Madison," but not as good as 1996's "Happy Gilmore" or 1999's "Big Daddy," and worlds below his one great picture, 1998's "The Wedding Singer."
Although he has a wonderful relationship with his father, the Devil (Harvey Keitel), Little Nicky (Adam Sandler) is a sweet, good-natured soul who doesn't seem to have much of the dark side in him, despite living in hell. With his father's 10,000-year reign to the purgatorial throne drawing to a close, it is up to him to choose one of his sons to succeed him. The only problem is, the Devil doesn't feel like his oldest boys, Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr.), are mature enough to handle it, and Nicky is far too "heavenly." Adrian and Cassius, outraged at their father's decision, escape to New York City and plan to derail all laws, creating a Hell on Earth.
With his body already beginning to deteriorate, the Devil sends Nicky out into the world above to find Cassius and Adrian and get them to drink from a magic-lamp-like flask that will suck and trap them in it for eternity. Partnered up with a wise bulldog named Mr. Beefy (voice by Robert Smigel), Nicky rents an apartment with an in-the-closet Broadway show fanatic (Allen Covert) and begins to search for his brothers. He even meets a cute fashion design major named Valerie (Patricia Arquette), all the while starting to feel strong emotions he's never felt before.
Aside from the whole Heaven and Hell angle, "Little Nicky" is nearly a carbon copy, in terms of plot developments and stock characters, of all of Sandler's starring-role filmography. There is always a sidekick or two, with at least one of them gay, and there is a token love interest that he has a falling-out with due to a misunderstanding, but whom get back together before the end credits. There even is a person or two who stand in the way of the main character's wants and dreams. While the tried-and-true formula isn't solely relegated to movies with Adam Sandler, it is finally beginning to wear out its welcome. We've seen all of this before, and done much better and with far more charm ("The Wedding Singer"). Here, even the romance between Sandler and Patricia Arquette comes off as a slight, unfeeling subplot that isn't given hardly any screen time to develop.
With Sandler doing his usual schtick, there is some admitted fun in the large supporting players. Arquette, as the mousy Valerie, is winning, but given very little to do, while Harvey Keitel and Rodney Dangerfield, as the Devil and Lucifer, are very funny. Dangerfield, especially, gets a few zinger lines, including a clever placement for his getting "no respect" motto. Jon Lovitz, as a peeping tom who dies in the opening scene, left to be sexually violated by a giant black crow for all of eternity, is priceless, and his brief subplot in the opening is comically superior to anything else in the movie. Kevin Nealon, as a demon who grows a pair of buxom breasts on the top of his head, is eccentrically repulsive.
Saving the best for last, the effervescently gifted and beautiful Reese Witherspoon shows up near the end as Sandler's loving and ageless mother, a heavenly angel who hangs out with her Valley Girl-style friends, and steals the show. Why Witherspoon agreed to be a part of such a waste of a movie is unknown, but for her ten minutes of screen time, she steals your heart and manages to tickle your funny bone in a fresh and innocent way. Aside from her, the film leaves you feeling oddly unclean with its repugnant premise and settings.
Laden with cheesy special effects galore, and not without a seemingly required helping of toilet humor and sexual innuendo (Adolf Hitler, for example, gets a pineapple shoved up his backside while wearing a maid's uniform at four o'clock every day as his punishment). "Little Nicky" is marginally enjoyable, and not exactly a downright failure, but it is uninspired. A divergence for the eyes and little else, the movie has the ability to stay with you for about as long as its slim 84-minute running time, and then exits from your memory. Not exactly a sign of comedic brilliance, or a sign of being that good at all.
©2000 by Dustin Putman