Deep into the press screening of Little Nicky, the unabashedly asinine comedy (you were expecting, what — Voltaire?) that casts Adam Sandler as the sissy son of Harvey Keitel’s Satan, the film broke down. The projectionist announced that in order to get picture and sound back in sync he’d have to start the film again. And there, in a roomful of hardened critics, I saw grown men and women cry, resigning themselves to the critic’s version of hell: a double dose of Sandler.
Despite the fact that Sandler’s films, including last year’s blockbuster Big Daddy, bulge with profits, most reviewers prissily dismiss the thirty-four-year-old comic as a one-note idiot boy. Those of us who admit to enjoying Happy Gilmore — this 1996 farce about a hockey hothead turned golfer is still Sandler’s best — or the sweet Wedding Singer or, horrors, the nonstop inanity of Billy Madison and The Waterboy, are eyed warily. You’re not supposed to enjoy Sandler, even on his own goofball terms, without hating yourself in the morning. Well, the hell with that. To each his own lowbrow crap. I’ll take Nicky’s scattershot laughs — the demonic special effects look like leftovers from Men in Black with slower pacing — over slick spew like Lucky Numbers.
Granted, the script, by Sandler, Tim Herlihy and director Steven Brill, isn’t much. Satan’s two eldest sons — Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tiny Lister) — torment kid brother Nicky (Sandler), a metalhead wimp who has talked out of the side of his mouth ever since Cassius bashed his face with a shovel. The brothers, royally pissed when daddy Keitel decides to rule the infernal regions for another 10,000 years, bust out to create their own private hell in Manhattan. Excellent choice. If Nicky doesn’t zap up to Earth and capture his brothers in a magic flask, Daddy will lose his power. He’s already losing body parts; at one point he’s reduced to just arms and a mouth. “At least you can still swim and play harmonica,” says Grandpa Lucifer (veteran Rodney Dangerfield in an inspired comic bit).
In New York, Nicky’s guide is a talking bulldog, Mr. Beefy (voiced by Robert Smigel), and if you don’t think Mr. Beefy shows his genitals and humps a poodle, you don’t know Mr. Sandler. Problems arise because Nicky is too nice to release his evil. When he falls for fashion student Valerie (Patricia Arquette), Adrian puts lewd words in his mouth: “Can I wet my winky in your kitchen sinky?” She forgives him. See, Nicky’s real mom isn’t a goat like Dad told him; she’s an angel (Reese Witherspoon). When devil boy meets his mom in heaven they discuss — what else? — American TV shows. “Do you watch Felicity?” she asks. “Nah,” says Nicky, “but I hear good things.” Mom and her Val-gal pals do tell Nicky to trust in God, because he’s “smart, Jeopardy smart.”
Nicky can’t stop Adrian from fucking with New Yorkers: The drinking age is lowered to ten, kids crash into bars looking for “beer and bitches,” Regis Philbin shocks his TV audience with vile stories (I loved that bit), and such Sandler pals as Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz, Michael McKean, Henry Winkler and Quentin Tarantino contribute cameos to ward off the lulls that occur back in hell when Hitler, in drag, appears periodically to get a pineapple shoved up his ass. Where’s Sandler in all this? Lost in gimmicks that smack of desperation. Damn it.