Little Nicky

As punishment for a careless mistake, the gatekeeper to Hell winds up with a pair of breasts on his head. In any other film, this would probably be funny. In “Little Nicky,” it’s redundant. You see, there are more boobs in “Little Nicky” than in a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s portfolio.


little nicky“Little Nicky” is a major misstep for star-writer Adam Sandler, a big-budget mess that is painfully unfunny. After generating big box office and goodwill with “The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy” and “Big Daddy,” perhaps no one was willing to say no to Sandler, whose best characters are those grounded in reality.

As the Devil’s sweet son Nicky, Sandler finds himself trapped in a mean-spirited parade of trite jokes and lame sight gags. Hiding behind a twisted face and a nerdy haircut, Sandler’s unique charm is lost. That leaves him to carry a film that probably wouldn’t have gotten made without his participation.

“Little Nicky” feels like payback, but not in the sense that the filmmakers were getting even at the audiences who brought them this far. No, “Little Nicky” feels like a showcase for all of Sandler’s friends who have brought him this far. It’s as if everyone decided to use this opportunity to cash in their markers.

So we get Dana Carvey as an old, cantankerous referee, Jon Lovitz as a peculiar Peeping Tom, Michael McKean as a dubious Police of Chief, Kevin Nealon as the gatekeeper, and Rob Schneider as a Cajun well wisher. It’s a virtual “Saturday Night Live” reunion, one that should generate laughter.

Instead, you sit there with your head in your hands, wondering how much pot everyone smoked before they committed to this film. The jokes are juvenile even for an Adam Sandler film, and that’s saying a lot. You know a comedy is in trouble when the funniest thing in it is Clint Howard in a tube top.

The screenplay is credited to Sandler, his regular writing partner Tim Herlihy, and director Steven Brill, yet it feels like the remnants of a bunch of friends who got together for a kegger and wrote a script. I’ve learned from experience that anything written in an altered state is only funny for the moment. Real comedy has to be grounded in reality.

The reality here is that none of this is funny. Even with a Pandora’s Box of special effects, “Little Nicky” does little to generate interest. It’s one stupid gag after another.

Like the boobs on the head. Okay, boobs on a head. Ha-ha. Get over it. Yet the filmmakers milk the boobs on the head for everything they’re worth, which is nothing. The joke bombs out of the gate, but the filmmakers demand they finish the race. That’s the main problem with Brill’s direction. He doesn’t know when to quit. He trots out tired material and beats it to death.

The plot finds Nicky trying to track down his two evil brothers before they can create Hell on Earth. Nicky is sent by his father (Harvey Keitel) and grandfather (Rodney Dangerfield) to Earth to bring them back, a daunting task for an innocent in a strange land.

On Earth, Nicky finds many pleasures (including a love interest in a design student played by Patricia Arquette) and just as many distractions. His brothers Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Jr.) have already started corrupting New York (lowering the drinking age to 10), forcing Nicky to clean up their mess as he attempts to lure them back.

Director Brill doesn’t get much help from the cast, who literally mug through every shot. These folks aren’t acting, they’re acting out. Void of any direction, they take their characters to the outer limits.

When he’s not chewing the scenery, Sandler retains some of his charm. There are a couple of moments when you feel close to the character, almost close enough to care. Arquette looks lost in all of this, while Keitel does little to distinguish himself as The Devil. He leaves the same impact when his character is reduced to a set of lips and a pair of arms.

Ifans (wonderfully goofy as Hugh Grant’s roommate in “Notting Hill”) and Lister are supposed to bring menace to the proceedings, but are cartoon thin, while co-stars like Quentin Tarantino as a blind preacher (there’s a lot of humor there) and Reese Witherspoon as a Heavenly Angel (via the San Fernando Valley) are an embarrassment. Even the bulldog playing Nicky’s Earthly provider looks ashamed of himself.

The script is all over the place, taking cheap shots at easy targets. Blind people running into poles and dogs humping are always funny, not. The film might have been better if Sandler and company were allowed to go the distance instead of holding back for a PG-13 rating. If ever a comedy screamed for “R-rated” treatment, it’s “Little Nicky.” A lot of the jokes fall flat because the filmmakers aren’t allowed to deliver. They set them up, and then leave the rest to our imaginations.

A “R” would have allowed the filmmaker’s to punish the gatekeeper by putting a male organ on his forehead. Now that would have been funny. If a film is going to wallow in the gutter, it should be allowed to get down and dirty.

DAMNED FOOL

Sandler can’t heat up this devil of a comedy

LITTLE NICKY

Adam Sandler, Harvey Keitel, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Allen Covert, Peter Dante, Jonathan Loughran in a film directed by Steven Brill. Rated PG-13. 93 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $2.50



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