In reviewing “Little Nicky,” it would be too easy to say that Adam Sandler playing the son of Satan is a matter of type-casting, or that while Adam Sandler may be the devil, it’s the audience who is in hell, or that if Adam Sandler was not doomed to an eternity of torment already, he will be after this movie.
So instead, I will just say this: “Little Nicky” is almost 100 percent laugh-free. It’s like a frat party where the boys make lots of jokes (there are only two female characters to speak of) that they think are funny, but only because they’re stoned.
Now, you should know that I’m not a critic who automatically hates all Adam Sandler movies, as mandated by the Movie Critic’s Code. I always think I’m one of those people, until I remember that I liked “Happy Gilmore” and “The Wedding Singer,” and that “The Waterboy” was sporadically amusing. It’s a case-by-case thing with Adam Sandler.
There are a number of things that make “Little Nicky” a painful ordeal. First, it’s nearly impossible to even tolerate the title character, let alone like him, with Sandler playing him as a hoarsely whispering simp who elicits no sympathy.
Second, many of the gags are old. Devil-based jokes are easy, as are jokes about people coming to Earth for the first time and having to learn the ropes.
Third, the few jokes that are clever, subversive or original are ruined by over-playing them. For example, a funny throw-away reference to Lucifer’s appointment to torture Hitler in an unusual way is wrecked when we are then forced to actually watch this happen.
Fourth, the movie creates arbitrary rules regarding hell and its denizens — rules that are not already established in our popular culture — and makes an extremely shaky foundation for itself.
Fifth, both Quentin Tarantino and a dog have speaking roles.
Nicky is one of three sons of the devil (Harvey Keitel) and is happy with his loving father, though he’s constantly bullied by his brothers, Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Jr.), both of whom seem far more evil than their easy-going dad or grandfather (Rodney Dangerfield).
Angry when Satan decides not to abdicate his throne to one of them after all, Adrian and Cassius head to Earth to get people sinning, thus making for more souls in hell, which will be to their advantage when they DO gain control. (Wouldn’t it make more sense to take over hell and THEN go to Earth?) Leaving hell, though, causes the gates to shut, and the lack of new souls causes Satan to start decomposing. It’s up to Nicky to go up and bring his two brothers back, or else Dad will, um, die, I guess. Because this movie has seen other movies in which there are deadlines, it decides all of this must happen within the space of a week.
So Nicky winds up in New York City, determined to find his brothers, apparently unaware (as are they) that there are OTHER places on Earth they could go to. Satan sends up a dog (voiced by Robert Smigel) who helps Nicky adjust to life on Earth, and there’s the obligatory romance with a nerdy woman named Valerie (Patricia Arquette), who finds the extremely creepy Nicky to be very sweet, until she realizes he’s creepy. (The only way he can convince her he’s nice after all is by telling her he’s the son of the devil, by the way, which makes as much sense as anything else.)
What can you say about a movie in which Jon Lovitz actually RAISES the level of class by playing a peeping Tom? Or a movie that manages to waste the considerable talent of Dana Carvey in a stupid cameo? Or a movie that thinks it’s funny to depict debauchery and mayhem amongst pre-teens?
Reese Witherspoon out-performs everyone in her bit part near the end, and I seem to recall Dad’s assiduous assistant demon (Salvatore Cavaliere) being amusing. But the rest is just so abominably unfunny and unengaging that I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie receives the official endorsement of hell itself.
D- (; )
In 2011, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.