Screenplay : Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler & Steven Brill
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Adam Sandler (Nicky), Harvey Keitel (Satan), Patricia Arquette (Valerie), Rhys Ifans (Adrian), Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr. (Cassius), Rodney Dangerfield (Lucifer), Kevin Nealon (Gatekeeper), Jon Lovitz (Peeper), Allen Covert (Todd), Ozzy Osbourne (Himself), Christopher Carroll (Hitler), Dana Carvey (Referee), Robert Smigel (Beefy), Quentin Tarantino (Deacon), Reese Witherspoon (Angel)
At this point in his movie career, Adam Sandler has mostly played either one of two roles: obnoxious, irresponsible loudmouths (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy) or shy, inept losers (The Waterboy). In his most recent film, Little Nicky, Sandler conforms to the latter of these two types: Yes, even when Sandler plays the spawn of Satan, he still plays him as an infantile dork.
His Nicky, one of three sons of Satan (Harvey Keitel), is a typical Sandler concoction, meaning that he has bizarre vocal and facial tics that are wholly unnecessary, but give Sandler something to do for 90 minutes other than act. He plays Nicky as a variation of the lisping Bobby Boucher from The Waterboy. Hunched over with the bad posture of someone with no self-esteem, he speaks in a bizarre half-whisper that seems to start somewhere in the back of his throat, and he scrunches all of his features to one side of his face. It is explained early on that this is the result of his having been hit in the side of the head with a shovel, but it smacks of a mere excuse for Sandler's schtick.
The plotline of Little Nicky involves Nicky's two brothers, the devious Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and the hulking, muscular Cassius (Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr.), escaping from hell up to New York where they threaten to upset the balance between good and evil by encouraging sin everywhere. A belabored plot device involves their having frozen the fiery gates of hell when they left, thereby restricting entry to any more souls. This means that Satan begins to decompose, and it is up to Nicky to save his father by traveling to New York and bringing his brothers back in a special flask.
The plot is as overwrought as it is stupid, yet it allows for some creativity and a few good jokes. Visually, the sequences that take place in hell are like a hyped-up version of a Pier Paolo Pasolini film. There are flying demons and tons of hellfire and torture, yet it is all painted over with an adolescent sensibility that renders it ridiculous. The screenplay, by Tim Herlihy, Sandler, and director Steven Brill, aims for the lowest of the low when it comes to hell jokes, even dragging in Adolph Hitler in a French maid outfit so he can receive his daily torture: having a pineapple shoved up his you-know-where.
Some of the jokes involving Nicky's learning the ropes of life on earth work so well, especially his newfound obsession with fried chicken that is as obvious and blatant a promotion for Popeye's as they come. In his quest to act human, Nicky is aided by a talking bulldog named Mr. Beefy (voiced by Robert Smigel). Why a talking bulldog? Why not, I suppose. There is little logic or consistency in Little Nicky. It is a pastiche of bizarre gags and bathroom humor, as if Sandler and company are just throwing jokes against the wall and seeing what sticks.
To make up for some of its less-than-inspired moments, the movie parades an almost endless number of cameos across the screen: Quentin Tarantino wildly overacting as a blind preacher; Rodney Dangerfield as Grandpa Lucifer quipping in hell that he still gets no respect; Dana Carvey in painfully unconvincing old-age make-up as a referee at a Harlem Globtrotters game; Jon Lovitz as a peeping tom who gets his just desserts in hell; Reese Witherspoon as a Valley Girl angel with a cell phone that barks like a poodle when it rings; and, of course, heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne as himself. After all, what movie about Satan could be complete without a walk-on by Ozzy?
The cameos mostly work, but Little Nicky stumbles badly when trying to create a romantic subplot between Nicky and a homely design student named Valerie (Patricia Arquette). In The Wedding Singer (1998), the only movie in which he did not play either a jerk or an idiot, Sandler proved that he could convincing fill the shoes of a romantic lead. But, acting the way he does in Little Nicky, there is no possibility of taking a romantic subplot seriously, thus calling into question why it was included in the first place.
Still, Little Nicky has its moments. I enjoyed the two spaced-out heavy metal aficionados who become Nicky's devoted followers, as well as Nicky's anal-retentive aspiring-actor roommate (Allen Covert). Some of Mr. Beefy's lines are quite funny, although the digital wizardry that makes him talk is the only convincing special effect in the movie; the rest looks hopelessly cartoonish. But, that's the point: Little Nicky is a live-action cartoon that, like all of Sandler's previous films, flaunts its absurdity as a virtue.
©2000 James Kendrick