Little Nicky

The dirty little secret of Adam Sandler's film career is that the famously hammy superstar is at his most appealing when reined in. Left to his own devices, he coasts way too heavily on his repertoire of suspiciously similar silly voices and goofy comic mannerisms. Sandler vehicles don't come much lazier or more self-satisfied than Little Nicky, a big-budget, high-concept, CGI-assisted comedy that feels like it's not only intended for 12-year-old boys, but also written and directed by them. Little Nicky casts Sandler as yet another lovable misfit who must learn to believe in himself. This time, Sandler portrays the evil-impaired son of Satan, who looks, behaves, and talks like the geeky rock critic Sandler played on Saturday Night Live. After Satan (Harvey Keitel) delays his retirement for the umpteenth time, Sandler's evil brothers (Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans and Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr.) flee to New York, where they work to undo the balance between heaven and hell, assisted by an ability to possess anyone on Earth. The concept of Satan's spawn using their skills as superhuman chameleons to foment anarchy and evil suggests promising comic possibilities, and Sandler and company have heaven and hell serving as their satiric canvas. But while Little Nicky manages a few pointed jabs—its sharpest conceit being that it would take only subtle prodding for New York to devolve into hell—it largely eschews satire in favor of puerile self-indulgence and Waterboy-style gross-out humor. Where noted Sandler-phobe Albert Brooks used purgatory as the setting for some of his smartest conceptual humor in Defending Your Life, Sandler uses an expensive-looking but ugly hell mainly as an excuse for gags like one involving Hitler being sodomized by a large pineapple. Little Nicky will undoubtedly be a hit, but it has the smirky tone of the world's biggest, most expensive in-joke, a feeling only intensified by multiple references to Sandler's other films. On SNL, he always seemed on the verge of cracking himself up, and much of his big-screen superstardom seems attributable to the similarities in comic taste between Sandler and his pubescent fan base. If Little Nicky is any indication, it's time for both to grow up.

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