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"LITTLE NICKY"
(2000) (Adam Sandler, Rhys Ifans) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: The meek son of the Devil is sent to Earth to capture his two renegade brothers who are determined to usurp the throne of Hell from their father.
PLOT:
After ruling Hell for the past ten thousand years, the Devil (HARVEY KEITEL) must choose which of his three sons will take his place on Hades' throne. Either Adrian (RHYS IFANS) or Cassius (TOMMY "TINY" LISTER JR.) seem the most likely choices since they're certainly evil, with meek Nicky (ADAM SANDLER) having no chance due to his weak and less than evil nature.

When the Devil decides to continue ruling rather than appoint one of his sons, Adrian and Cassius are outraged and set out for Earth where they'll convert enough souls into supporting them that they'll be able to overthrow their father. Passing through the gates of Hell and overcoming the Gatekeeper's (KEVIN NEALON) attempts at stopping them, the rebellious sons' actions freeze the gates and set into motion the slow, disintegrating death of the Devil.

Prompted by the Devil's assistant, Jimmy the Demon (BLAKE CLARK), his grandfather, Lucifer (RODNEY DANGERFIELD) and the desire to save his dad, Nicky agrees to travel to Earth for the first time to return his errant siblings. Armed with a magic flask that will capture them should they fooled into drinking from it, Nicky arrives up top with no knowledge of how anything works there.

After being accidentally killed and returned to Hell, Nicky is sent back to Earth where's he then accompanied by Beefy (voice of ROBERT SMIGEL), a talking dog and old friend of the Devil's. Showing Nicky the ropes, Beefy helps him track down the brothers and sets him up with a roommate, Todd (ALLEN COVERT), who's presumably in denial of his own homosexuality.

As Nicky tries to find and channel the evil within him to battle and then capture his brothers who can possess people and thus look like others, he meets and falls for fashion student, Valerie (PATRICIA ARQUETTE), while being aided by heavy metal Devil worshippers, Pete (PETER DANTE) and John (JONATHAN LOUGHRAN). With less than a week before his father disappears and Adrian takes over, Nicky does what he can to stop that from happening.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Be it due to millennium based, apocalyptic worries, the standard cinematic recycling of stories and characters, or the need for an antagonist whose portrayal won't offend many in our politically correct climate, there's no denying that the Devil's making a comeback at the movies.

One might even think that 'ol Beelzebub has a "damned" good agent, what with his many recent parts and/or portrayals. Not only have the likes of Al Pacino and Elizabeth Hurley played him, but he's also returned and made some serious cash in the re-release of "The Exorcist." Of course, one can't complain that the Devil sold his soul to himself in exchange for such prominent Hollywood placements, but one can obviously do so about certain stars and other behind the scenes talent.

After all, most critics and at least some moviegoers think that high concept plots (the kind whose one line descriptions not only sell the story to the studios but then later to the moviegoing masses) must come straight from Hell (or deserve to go there) for inspiring what are often quite bad films. The area that offers more evidence, however, is with certain onscreen stars that couldn't succeed and thrive in Hollywood without some sort of devilish pact.

While such comments are made in jest and aren't intended to imply any sort of devil worship or the like, one has to wonder how performers like Adam Sandler have become some of the highest paid actors working today, with films that now regularly gross more than $100 million. As the ex-"Saturday Night Live" performer and star of films such as "Big Daddy," "The Waterboy" and "The Wedding Singer" has readily stated about himself, he's not particularly handsome or in the same acting league as his honored cohorts, and his films will never be confused with being Oscar contenders, yet he's a multimillionaire and huge box office draw.

All of which leads to Sandler's latest film, "Little Nicky." Another high concept, lowest common denominator film, this picture further cements the belief that Sandler must have previously made some sort of pact with the Devil. More often stupid and poorly made rather than funny or inspired, there's little doubt that that the film will play to Sandler's core target audience and make beaucoup box office millions.

Somewhat of a combination of the standard fish out of water story with something of a gender reversal on parts of the old Cinderella plot, the film surprisingly works best when Sandler and his dimwitted character are MIA. That's because Sandler's portrayal of the picked-on son of the Devil, with his twisted walk, voice and facial expression, isn't particularly interesting, sympathetic or funny. While that doesn't necessarily harm a film like this that really doesn't have far to travel to hit rock bottom, it does diminish some of its soul, if you will, and rob it of some of its fun.

Instead, the film's supporting characters and cameos from all sorts of celebrities keep the film lively and somewhat engaging, even if it's not much more than something resembling an elongated, uneven and extremely episodic "SNL" skit.

While the Cinderella type material (Sandler's character is the weak, picked-on sibling who gets a chance to show up his two more flamboyant and egotistical brothers) doesn't offer much to the film beyond the underlying, skeletal plot, the fish out of water scenario - despite nearly being done to death in other previous films - does offer more potential.

Notwithstanding a few laughs, however, Sandler and fellow screenwriter Tim Herlihy ("Big Daddy," "The Waterboy") don't give director Steven Brill ("Heavyweights") a great deal to work with. As a result, viewers may be more likely to remember Popeye's Chicken than any of the film's more "memorable" creative moments, as that fast food chain must have made its own devilish deal for so many prominent placements of its product (Nicky learns that the chain's chicken is the thing to eat "up top").

Beyond that, running gags of Nicky saying where he's from (the "deep" South), Hitler's proctological penance in Hell, and material regarding the male gatekeeper of Hell having realistic looking, bare female breasts on his head all get old rather quickly. What works better is Sandler's canine sidekick who's given the "Babe" talking animal treatment by Rhythm & Hues and the vocal talents of Robert Smigel (the man behind those cartoon shorts on "Saturday Night Live").

A scene where Sandler, the pooch and others sit around stoned will probably be one of the film's highlights for the target audience, but enough other amusing moments are present to entertain those who manage to lower their standards to see films like this.

That said, beyond the sheer inanity of it all, the film's biggest problem is that it's too fractured, episodic and simply not funny enough. Although they move the story forward (albeit in a herky-jerky manner), the individual scenes rarely connect together in a smooth fashion and appear more as isolated bits of attempted humor rather than smaller, interconnected pieces of a greater, imaginative and comedic whole.

That, and the many distracting cameos from the likes of Dana Carvey, Quentin Tarantino, Henry Winkler, Clint Howard and many others, rob the film of such continuity and comedic momentum. While viewers will probably find a few of the scenes as amusing or funny (such as the opening one with John Lovitz as a blatant Peeping Tom that offers viewers the false hope that the rest of the film will be as inspired as it is), it's rather unlikely that they'll feel the same way about the entire, overall picture.

As far as the performances are concerned, they're as dimensionally challenged as one would expect, with Sandler leading the way with his dimwitted, but supposedly lovable and charming character. Playing just a variation of his normal "dumb" role, this may be the actor's least appealing character.

Harvey Keitel ("U-571," "Bugsy") is okay as his father, the Devil, while Rodney Dangerfield ("Meet Wally Sparks," "Caddyshack") elicits a few laughs doing his normal "no respect" shtick, this time with a Lucifer theme. Rhys Ifans ("The Replacements," "Notting Hill") and Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. ("Next Friday," "Jackie Brown") can't do much with their evil brother characters which also holds true for Patricia Arquette ("Bringing Out the Dead," "Lost Highway") and her barely developed, love interest character.

Overall, the filmmakers seem to have squandered some decent material in favor of doing the typical, Sandler lowbrow stuff. Had the film been fortunate enough to be blessed with the presence of someone like Tim Burton ("Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands") and his wildly imaginative and macabre sense of comedy, it might actually have been rather good.

As it stands, however, and despite a few occasionally amusing moments, the film simply isn't very good, and, notwithstanding the film's big budget look and special effects, feels like something of a regression for Sandler back to his earlier, more juvenile works.

While the film obviously stands a far better chance of succeeding at the box office than does a snowball in Hell, one of these days the Devil's going to call Sandler on their contract and his inexplicable ride of stardom and success will be over. And thus, so will the occasionally hellish torment of sitting through sophomoric pablum like this. Certainly not the worst film of the year but clearly far, far, far away from being good or even Sandler's best, "Little Nicky" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 6, 2000 / Posted November 10, 2000


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