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Little Nicky   D+

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Brill
Writers: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler, Steven Brill
Cast: Adam Sandler, Harvey Keitel, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Quentin Tarantino, Rodney Dangerfield.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

PART ONE: After the Movie

After the movie, it was a sobering experience. I wandered around, hands in my pockets, and listened to the chatty people discussing Little Nicky amongst themselves:

"That was funny."

"That was funny."

"That was funny."

"That was funny."

My friends approached and asked me what I thought. I shrugged and said that I was fairly disappointed. Honestly, I've never been a fan of Adam Sandler's slob-boy humor on Saturday Night Live and would have pretty much written him off as a complete walking failure were it not for his endearing turn in The Wedding Singer.

Sandler has always struck me as a desperate comic who wants to push and shove a reaction out of you -- whether it be to love him or feel disgusted by his goofball lack of tact (eating fried chicken with his mouth full, for example). After letting my friends know that I really wasn't into the film, I asked what they thought.

"That was funny."

"That was funny."

"Gosh, Jeremiah -- why does everything have to be so highbrow for you? I guess we simply have different taste."

Boy, that is tough to argue. Some folks will undoubtedly find the antics of Little Nicky to be utterly hilarious, or at least mildly amusing. My friends didn't even think it was Adam Sandler's best work and conceded that there were some lazy gags. Still and all, this is a movie which has a built-in audience which will flock to it.

Then there are folks like myself who are already predetermined to not like the movie.

PART TWO: Jeremiah Was Not Predetermined To Hate This Movie

All right, that's not fair.

I was perfectly willing to give Sandler the benefit of the doubt after The Wedding Singer. Indeed, I thought the concept of Sandler playing the son of the devil was a pretty good one.

He'd surrounded himself with a quality cast that included Harvey Keitel as the devil, Patricia Arquette as the love interest, Rodney Dangerfield as Lucifer (the devil's pop, who gets no respect) and Rhys Ifans as Adrian, Nicky's evil brother. He has a substantial budget to play with.

There are also numerous fun cameos from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, who steals the show as a blind street preacher who launches into mad tirades whenever Nicky comes near him, a couple of has-been celebrities and all of Sandler's pals from Saturday Night Live.

It's difficult to attempt pulling off films which take place in heaven or hell, especially comedies. There's always the need to up the ante somehow -- take Terry Gilliam's brilliant interpretation in Time Bandits where the devil (David Warner) was all about consumer technology, or in South Park where the prince of darkness was having a marital spat with his lover, Sadaam Hussein. (It also had Gandhi in hell, which was a nice touch.)

Little Nicky has a hell which is familiar to anyone who has seen a couple of movies. It's Gothic and fiery, painted in shiny red and black. Harvey Keitel is dressed in a black Dracula cape, with little horns and the Van Dyke beard. His evil sons look like David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, with long hair like metal-heads. There's no new ground to be dug here. In this way, Little Nicky is already miles behind the new standards of fantasy comedy set by South Park.

PART THREE: The Saga of Little Nicky

When the devil decides to rule Hell for another 10 thousand years, Little Nicky is perfectly willing to let him have it. He'd rather stay in his room and jam to heavy metal music. His evil brothers, Adrian (Ifans) and Cassius (Tiny Lister, who still can't act), decide that they're sick of being slaves in Hell so they leap through the wall of fire and attempt to take over the Earth.

In an attempt to restore moral order, the devil -- whose body is degenerating as a result of his children's insurrection, sends Little Nicky in hot pursuit accompanied by an obnoxious talking dog. As he wanders around Manhattan in search of his brothers (who possess everyone in sight), he learns to appreciate the taste of Popeye's chicken and falls in love with a bespectacled girl (Arquette).

Lots of whacky things happen.

The devil, displeased with one of his subjects (Kevin Nealon), turns his forehead into a pair of breasts (which some of the demons of hell twist around for the rest of the movie). Meanwhile, the talking dog goes wee-wee a lot on the floor, has sex doggie-style with a rodent and shoots arrows out of his pecker. As all that whackiness is going on, Nicky's roommate refuses to admit he's gay -- har har har.

Heaven resembles Clueless, complete with Valley girls talking on their cell phones -- which bark like dogs instead of ringing, ha ha. Hell looks like, well, a lousy '80s metal band that lost their schwiiing.

You will find this funny or not funny, depending on your tolerance for crass humor in the hands of a clown desperate to wring a reaction out of you. Myself, I giggled maybe four or five times throughout the movie -- but I fall into the camp that generally finds zany slapstick comedy to be "not funny."

It falls miles short of Groucho's incessantly hostile wit, Buster Keaton's sense of deadpan timing as the world crumbles around him, or even the Brothers Farrelly who find new and creative ways of putting their protagonists through hoops of disgust. Compare the tear-inducing zipper scene of There's Something About Mary to anything in Little Nicky -- one is inspired and original, the other is lazy and familiar.

Of course, I've stated loud and clear that I have a natural bias to Adam Sandler (and most of his SNL flunkies, who show up here like wraiths sent to haunt your humble narrator). Little Nicky did little to convince me he was going in a new direction -- it's the same old nonsense dussed up with an Uber-budget of special effects.

EPILOGUE

Heck, you may even find it to be funny. Far be it from me to judge you for it -- just help me to understand why...

No, don't.

I told my friend I didn't like the "tit-head" character. Why? It didn't make me laugh. It wore out its welcome.

"But it's funny, Jeremiah!"

Why?

"Because he's got tits on his head!"

Review published 11.12.2000.

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