- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

1 and 1/2 out of four stars
TITLE: "Little Nicky"
RATING: PG-13 (Systematic comic vulgarity; occasional profanity and sexual innuendo; graphic violence that accentuates the farcical and supernatural)
CREDITS: Directed by Steven Brill
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

''Little Nicky" provides further discouraging evidence that the golden age of the Adam Sandler farce may have drawn to a close.
Make that the early golden age, to preserve the hopeful alternative of a resurgence, sooner or later. For the time being, the delightful winning streak of "Happy Gilmore," "The Wedding Singer" and "The Waterboy" threatens to be reciprocated by a losing streak, which got under way with "Big Daddy" and continues with "Little Nicky."
How to reverse this downhill shift? The unsatisfactory titles share New York settings, and perhaps it's not advantageous. It seemed more appealing to think of Mr. Sandler as an oddball from New England or even the Deep South.
To be fair, he's only a visitor in "Little Nicky": the harmless, reclusive, apologetic third son of a Satan impersonated by Harvey Keitel.
When his aggressive older brothers, Rhys Ifans as Adrian and Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. as Cassius, rebel at dad's failure to turn over the franchise after a reign of 10,000 years, Nicky must track them to New York City, a promising New Sodom.
Ill-prepared and overmatched, Nicky is given an ornamental flask into which the fugitives must be lured and trapped. A talking bulldog, Mr. Beefy, serves as kibitzer and part-time gumshoe.
Gags about denizens of hell for example, Adolf Hitler, who must dress as a chambermaid, alternate with culture-shock gags as Nicky gets acquainted with the city.
Despite an elaborately designed and costumed hellish sector, the movie resembles a prankish student film. It's the kind of thing that might have made more sense when Mr. Sandler and his collaborators were still at New York University.
Scattered jokes and brainstorms are amusing. Patricia Arquette does nothing for Mr. Sandler as a comic leading lady, but her mousy character gets one swell moment, when she bashes Nicky over the head with a prop boulder. The movie arguably is at its best when taking the audience by surprise with gratuitous boulder shots to the skull.
Unfortunately, director Steven Brill can't seem to find a speedy exit from whole sequences that lay eggs: Adrian disguised as a cardinal and allegedly whipping a congregation into hedonistic frenzy; Nicky blundering onto the floor of a Harlem Globetrotters game, with Dana Carvey as a cranky referee.
The feeling of an Adam Sandler house party (outrageous costumes preferred) is accentuated in hell, where Rodney Dangerfield and Henry Winkler do guest spots, Jon Lovitz gets chased by a lecherous giant bird and Kevin Nealon attracts an ape while adorned with breasts on his head.
A welcome, chaste heavenly interlude finds room for Reese Witherspoon and Carl Weathers, taking a bow as Chubs, his character from "Happy Gilmore." It reaches a point where you're vaguely disconcerted that other Sandler sidekicks from "Saturday Night Live" or his movies fail to show up. What, no Drew Barrymore or Kathy Bates or Bob Barker?
"Little Nicky" never sustains adequate integrity or momentum as a self-contained movie farce. The ongoing house party has its funny moments, but the New York adventure invented to help Nicky grow up never fits the bill for character or plot.
There was a genuine comic logic when Woody Allen took a side trip to hell in "Deconstructing Harry." A comparable logic for planting one foot in a home-front hell eludes the Sandler team in "Little Nicky."
Their hell is more in the nature of a stopgap, illustrating that fresh approaches to an Adam Sandler character might be dwindling down to zero.


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