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Little Nicky

Director: Steven Brill
Cast: Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Harvey Keitel

(New Line Cinema; 2000)

Dud Planet

In his latest film, Little Nicky, Adam Sandler plays the son of Satan. Nicky, odd as it seems, is remarkably true to the popular image Sandler has cultivated in his previous films. In some instances, Sandler plays a kind of angel: the goofy yet loveable buffoon who sings his heart out for Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer or the kind-hearted tollbooth operator who takes care of an abandoned child in Big Daddy. In others, he plays a devilish sort: the surly aspiring hockey player who beats up venerable game show host Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore or the trust fund flunkie who drunkenly hallucinates giant penguins and fixates on co-star Bridgette Wilson’s breasts in Billy Madison.


In Little Nicky, however, these two sides collide as the film tries to create a sympathetic, romantic hero whose demonic side has him engaging in crude behavior and juvenile comedy. As a result, Sandler’s angelic and devilish halves effectually cancel each other out. As Nicky, Sandler is the youngest of the devil’s three sons. His two older half-brothers, Adrian and Cassius (Rhys Ifans and Tony “Tiny” Lister, Jr.), repeatedly chastise the socially maladjusted, sensitive Nicky. When Satan (Harvey Keitel) decides to extend his rule in Hell for an additional ten thousand years rather than will his throne to any of his sons, the impatient Adrian and Cassius decide to make their own Hell — up on Earth. Their escape from the original Inferno disrupts the influx of souls into Hell and, as a result, dear old Dad begins to fall apart — literally. Nicky, of course, is the only one who can return his brothers to Hell, an event which will in turn piece his father back together. It’s up to Nicky, in other words, to set things right.


Nicky’s adventures on earth alternate between gross-out comedy and hackneyed romance — neither storyline works. The ostensible comedy is derived in good part from Nicky’s guide on earth, Mr. Beefy, a streetwise bulldog who helps him acclimate to his new human form and earthly surroundings. Mr. Beefy is given a voice through the use of animated lips, like those used for the title character in Babe and then on every species in the ark in commercials for everything from ice cream to kitty litter. As the failure of Babe‘s sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, suggests, however, these lips on animals are no longer an entertaining gimmick. Still, Mr. Beefy spews out wisecracks through his computer-generated mouth as if the effect makes what he’s saying somehow funny or interesting. The bulldog regales the audience with flashbacks of his experiences with strip clubs and binge drinking, pausing often to cock his leg and urinate (with the help of more computer animation). Mr. Beefy’s toilet humor, however, is stale and tame (a peeing dog just isn’t that funny), as is the rest of Little Nicky‘s comedy.


Joining the bulldog to help Nicky are his effeminate but (so he insists) heterosexual roommate (Allen Covert), who cheerfully lends his support after Nicky’s evil roaring as he snores gives away his secret identity, and two heavy metal stoners (Peter Dante and Jonathan Loughram), who worship our hero after they discover him breathing fire in Central Park. The gags that result when this group of guys gets together bear Sandler’s trademark juvenile male humor. This basically means jokes about breasts, excrement, and midgets (this last a disturbing and increasingly popular punchline — see Blink 182’s latest video “Man Overboard” and MTV’s Jackass). In keeping with this theme, Satan affixes a pair of breasts onto one unfortunate demon’s (Kevin Nealon) head and heaven turns out to be a sorority house full of luscious babes. All this weak and recycled comedy turns Little Nicky into a watered-down version of Sandler’s testosterone-charged Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore.


Sandler’s angelic image is evoked in Nicky’s romance with the disheveled and painfully shy fashion school student Valerie (Patricia Arquette). Taking a break from the company of Mr. Beefy and the metalheads, Nicky falls in love with the bespectacled misfit and tries awkwardly to win her affections with such heart-melting one-liners as, “Your eyes are big and sparkly. I like looking at them.” This part of the plot attempts to capitalize on Sandler’s roles in romantic comedies like The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy, but with little success. Nicky’s mush-mouthed speech impediment makes him a loser, period, more annoying than sympathetic. Though the blame for his social ineptitude is ascribed to his brothers’ many physical abuses, Nicky’s simpering speech and geeky haircut do little to inspire romance.


In the midst of this lack of originality and inspiration, the movie resorts to calling up Sandler’s past successes in film and television. Many of his Saturday Night Live cohorts appear in cameo roles, including Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, and Ellen Cleghorne. Rob Schneider appears as well, reprising his role as the foulmouthed Cajun in The Waterboy. The popularity of SNL and The Waterboy, however, is not enough to rescue Little Nicky from its disastrous smash-up between Adam Sandler, the romantic hero, and Adam Sandler, the slapstick comic. In the end, neither Sandler’s angel nor his devil emerges unscathed from the muddled wreck of this film. And so the audience is left in limbo, a ninety-minute cinematic purgatory that feels like an eternity.

Tobias Peterson served as PopMatters' Sport Editors and columnist (From the Cheap Seats). He holds an MA in English Literature (with a concentration in Cultural Studies) from George Mason University, where he studied representations of race in professional basketball.


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