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Sandler's Comedy Goes to Hell

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2000


    'Little Nicky' Adam Sandler is a descendant of the Devil in "Little Nicky."
(New Line Cinema)
Note to self, after watching "Little Nicky": Warn nation Adam Sandler is spawn of Satan.

No, really. In his latest comedy (for want of a better term), Sandler is Little Nicky, a shy man-child with a permanently twisted facial expression and a hunched shuffle, who happens to be the youngest son of the Devil (Harvey Keitel).

The old man, who's the genial son of the original, hell-founding Satan (Rodney Dangerfield), is now in his 10,000th year and is thinking about a successor. But Dad can't bring himself to appoint either of his nasty older sons, Adrian (Rhys Ifans, the goofy one from "Notting Hill") or Cassius (Tommy "Tiny" Lister); and Little Nicky's far too shy and immature to be the new prince of darkness.

Dad decides to stay in charge, which infuriates Adrian and Cassius. They jet out of Hell to wreak havoc on Earth in general, and New York City in particular. Their insubordinate exit threatens the satanic cosmos: The gates of hell are violated, no more souls can enter and father Satan starts to physically deteriorate.

Little Nicky, who loves his dad, has a week to bring these rogues home (in a special satanic-issue genie bottle) before Pops crumbles into devil dust. Oh, and while he's at it, he needs to restore the balance of good and evil on Earth.

His assistant on Earth is a talking bulldog.

So much for the set-up. Naturally, "Little Nicky" is loaded for bear with hell jokes, many of them mildly amusing, but none big enough to induce major hysteria. We see a famous, retired quarterback offering his soul for just one more shot at the Super Bowl. ("You did it for Namath," he points out.) Dangerfield comes out for some of those "no respect" jokes. And Adolf Hitler, forced to wear a dress, gets his painful punishment every day, courtesy of a pineapple.

Sandler, who scripted this with Tim Herlihy and Steven Brill, is never one for bright, peppy writing. The story plods along, punctuated by gags that are more silly than inventive.

As always, he depends on a romantic subplot with an attractive co-star to endear his character to the audience. In this case, it's Patricia Arquette, who plays a beatific homeless person named Valerie, a sort of Chaplin companion. Except, there's no Charlie Chaplin hero in this movie, just a slurry-voiced demon-nerd who suggests Richard III's American love child.

How much you enjoy this movie depends on how funny you find Sandler talking out the side of his mouth with a gravelly squawk – for the entire movie. Throughout this movie, I dreamed of a speech therapist, a chiropractor and a good hairdresser offering Nicky their unlimited services. But to no avail. There was some good news. My 16-year-old son (who happens to be named, uh, Adrian), a target audience member for Sandler, was not impressed with the movie at all. He laughed maybe twice during the whole thing. Adam Sandler cannot be stopped, I thought. But, at least my Adrian had rejected the dark side.

"Little Nicky" (PG-13, 84 minutes) – Contains bad words, gross-out material, urination, sexual jokes and situations, marijuana smoking, and one guy with bare breasts attached to the top of his head.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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