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Movie Review

A Little 'Nicky' Goes a Long Way

Adam Sandler knows how to appeal to juvenile tastes, and his latest film doesn't attempt anything more.


What can you say about Adam Sandler that hasn't been said before? To restate the obvious:

(a) He's one of the most popular of comic actors, an entertainer whose last film, "Big Daddy," had an opening weekend gross (the word is used advisedly) of more than $40 million.

(b) As a performer, he's not without ability or appeal, but the bedrock of his success is an uncanny aptitude for pandering to the gross-out appetites of teenage boys.

(c) It's to be hoped that, as Jim Carrey did with "The Truman Show," he finds a less age-restricted vehicle that makes use of his gifts.

(d) "Little Nicky" isn't it. Not even close.

A deeply unfunny fantasy comedy about a family feud between the devil's three sons, "Little Nicky" is not a dangerous movie, just a stupid one. When one of its characters says, "You will see things more horrible than you can possibly imagine," he's being more truthful than he knows.

Basically a vanity project that not only stars the comedian but is co-executive produced and co-written (with longtime collaborator Tim Herlihy and director Steven Brill) by him as well, "Little Nicky" takes you deeper Inside Adam Sandler than you may want to go. We get to see what he finds funny, what he takes seriously, what makes him choke back a tear. A visit with the Dalai Lama it's not.

The kindest thing that can be said about Sandler's sense of humor is that it's unapologetically juvenile. Though the actor took a stab at stretching with "The Wedding Singer," "Little Nicky" caves in completely to his adolescent fan base.Who else, after all, is going to laugh at animals having sex, at a mass accident involving people in wheelchairs, or a gag shot of the title character defecating on a Manhattan street? (Yes, this film is rated PG-13. Couldn't you tell?)

Not only is the humor unrelentingly puerile (at one screening, not so much as a chuckle came from anyone old enough to vote), but "Little Nicky" also has the unnerving ability to turn its stupidest conceits into running jokes. A ponderous riff on an encounter between a pineapple and a part of Adolph Hitler's anatomy (remember, we're talking PG-13 here) was deemed good enough to reprise, and the plight of one male character with breasts on the top of his head (don't ask) gets brought back again and again and again.

"Little Nicky's" plot, such as it is, is basically skit material and not the firmest foundation for an 89-minute movie filled with millions of dollars in special effects. After a nonsensical opening involving Jon Lovitz as a Peeping Tom, we're deposited in hell, where the devil (Harvey Keitel), having ruled the nether regions since the retirement of his father (Rodney Dangerfield), is trying to decide who will be in charge for the next 10,000 years.

Mr. Evil has three sons, bad Cassius (Tommy 'Tiny' Lister Jr.), badder Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Nicky (Sandler). Nicky is the offspring no one takes seriously, especially since his brothers hit him in the head with a shovel, leaving the kid with a partially paralyzed face, a speech impediment and the general demeanor of a hopeless dweeb.

Even in the context of the other characters Sandler has played, Nicky's maladroit sick puppy persona (Ann Pala gets a "Adam Sandler's Look Created By" credit, and she earned it) makes someone like "The Waterboy" look like John Wayne. Likely influenced by "The Hunchback of Notre Dame's" Quasimodo, Nicky is such a tedious, hopeless individual, it allows every doofus in the audience to feel superior, which is probably the idea.

Eager for a place to rule on their own, Adrian and Cassius leave Hades for New York (yes, they can tell the difference), but their departure, for reasons too contrived to go into, turns out to be a threat to the devil's very life. Hapless Nicky, who loves his dad, has to follow them to Manhattan and spirit them back to the underworld in order to prevent, well, all hell from breaking loose.

Helped by a talking bulldog named Mr. Beefy and distracted by a crush he develops on an art student named Valerie (Patricia Arquette) and the rages of a blind deacon (Quentin Tarantino), Nicky finds he has to release both his inner evil and his inner goodness to get the job done. Even from a movie this misbegotten, getting a lesson in morality from Adam Sandler is one heck of a strange experience.

* MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude sexual humor, some drug content, language and thematic material. Times guidelines: defines the lowest common denominator of off-color juvenile humor.

'Little Nicky'

Adam Sandler: Nicky

Patricia Arquette: Valerie

Harvey Keitel: Dad

Rhys Ifans: Adrian

Tommy 'Tiny' Lister Jr.: Cassius

A Happy Madison production, in association with RSC Media, released by New Line Cinema. Director Steven Brill. Producers Robert Simonds, Jack Giarraputo. Executive producers Robert Engelman, Adam Sandler, Michael De Luca, Brian Witten. Screenplay Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler & Steven Brill. Cinematographer Theo Van De Sande. Editor Jeff Gourson. Costumes Ellen Lutter. Music Teddy Castellucci. Production design Perry Andelin Blake. Art directors Alan Au, Don Woodruff. Set decorator Rick Simpson. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

In general release.

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