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'Little Nicky'

Pulling for Satan: Big guy is the lesser of the evils in Sandler's 'Little Nicky'

Friday, November 10, 2000

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Satan is dying. And only Adam Sandler's Little Nicky, the bumbling but lovable runt of Satan's litter, can save him.

'Little Nicky'

RATING: PG-13 for crude sexual humor, some drug content, language and thematic material.

STARRING: Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette.

DIRECTOR: Steven Brill.




Nicky's a bit of a joke around Hell. He's awkward, goofy-looking, shy and not the brightest devil in the bunch. His brothers call him "Daddy's little girl" and "shovel face," the second name a reference to the caved-in face and speech impediment he's had since being beaten with a shovel by his evil brother Cassius.

His father is dying because his brothers, Cassius and Adrian, have gone to Earth, an incident that so disrupts the natural laws of the cosmos, Satan starts to crumble -- first a finger, soon an ear. Eventually, only his mouth remains.

If Nicky can capture his brothers inside a magic flask and bring them back to Hell, his dad and, more importantly, the universe are saved.

If Nicky fails, his father's throne would fall to either Adrian or Cassius, either of whom would prove a more destructive force in the age-old War on Good than Satan, played with a goofy, benevolent charm by a goat-bearded Harvey Keitel.

If it sounds at all confusing, bear in mind that this is Adam Sandler. It's meant to entertain a 12-year-old. It's not confusing.

What it is, is Sandler's most surreal fish-out-of-water story yet. And in it's own demented way, it's every bit as sweet as "Happy Gilmore" or "The Wedding Singer" -- only those films didn't have a talking bulldog or a scene in which Beelzebub is told, "Don't forget, you're shoving a pineapple up Hitler's [behind] at 4 p.m." (Minutes later, in comes Hitler in a French maid's outfit to pick out a suitable pineapple.)

As is Sandler tradition, the juvenile humor (of which there is plenty) is offset with a cute romantic subplot (for the ladies). Patricia Arquette plays Valerie, a cute but awkward New York girl who's charmed by Nicky's clueless ways. She laughs when Sandler says he's from the Deep South, then admits she doesn't get it. Later, when he tells her his father is Satan, Arquette deadpans, "Now I get that Deep South joke."

The thing is, Nicky's too sweet for the job at hand. As Beefy the talking bulldog coaches him, he needs to work on releasing his evil. His first attempt at doing something less-than-nice is magically changing his roommate's Coke to Pepsi. (Allan Covert, by the way, is brilliant as the uptight roommate.)

Half the fun of "Little Nicky" is the casting -- Rodney Dangerfield as Satan's disrespected dad, Jon Lovitz as a peeping Tom, Clint Howard as a drag queen, Spinal Tap's Michael McKean as the chief of police who's been possessed by one of Nicky's brothers, Quentin Tarantino as a Jesus freak and Ozzy Osbourne as himself in the funniest scene of all.

And there are many truly funny scenes, a whole lot more than you'd think if you've been shaking your head in dismay at the previews. They should have shown you Regis Philbin -- possessed by one of Nicky's brothers -- telling his studio audience a tale that ends in "I'm bashing his head in with a baseball bat."

What they couldn't show you is the way you barely notice Sandler's speech impediment, his caved-in face or goofy hairdo as the movie moves along. All you really notice is the character, a hellish variation on the noble underdog he's played in all his classic films, from "Happy Gilmore" to "The Waterboy."

It's a great performance, one of Sandler's best.

And the timing is great. He's got you pulling for the lesser of two evils on election week.

And that's what makes him one teen icon parents should applaud, the fundamental core of human decency beneath the funny voices at the heart of Sandler's movie roles.

So go. And take the kids. I'll tell you honestly, I haven't seen a more heartwarming film about Satan in years.

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