In a strange prologue that has no pay-off anywhere later in Little Nicky, a mildly lecherous voyeur (Jon Lovitz) falls to his death and instantly finds himself in Hell – where he is immediately pursued by a giant "horny bird" who makes obscene, humping gestures at his back.
All the elements are here: much gruesome slapstick involving bodily injuries; endless, prurient, South Park-style jokes about swearing and anal sex; a string of pop culture pastiches; and a plot premise that gingerly calls upon elements of horror and supernatural fantasy.
Nicky (Sandler) is the beloved son of Satan (Harvey Keitel), too gentle and incompetent to be considered as heir to the dark throne. His brothers, Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Thomas Lister Jr), are, by contrast, far too brutal to respect the universe's "balance of good and evil". When these delinquents travel to New York to win all mortals over to sin and damnation, Nicky has to chase and literally bottle them in order to save the cosmos.
Little Nicky is a reasonably amusing, cartoonish effort in which all situations and themes are mediated through pop clichés. Heavy metal fans rejoice that the Devil's emissaries walk on earth, and call on Ozzy Osbourne for special help when the going gets tough. Nicky is discredited in the mass media by having his face and voice digitally morphed into a clip from the 1983 gangster classic Scarface (which, we are casually informed, is "probably De Palma's third best film"). There are wicked cameos involving Henry Winkler and Adolf Hitler.
The film's plot logic is a little wonky. Nicky's vulgar, talking dog Beefy sometimes hides his identity in front of earthly citizens and sometimes doesn't. Nicky knows so little of human culture that he must learn how to eat, but nonetheless has a connoisseur's command of rock music. Patricia Arquette has an odd, inconsequential role as Valerie, Nicky's love interest, which might have been intended as a parody of her part in Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead (1999). Sandler himself is reduced to repeating the same demented mannerisms over and over.
But Little Nicky takes a turn for the better when our hero discovers that his mother (Reese Witherspoon) is chief angel in Heaven – and also an eternal teenager in love with the latest dance fads and the television show Felicity. For the running gag of this girl pining over her lost Satanic love – "the biggest horndog", as her girlfriends remind her – and the spectacle of Quentin Tarantino burning to death, this film merits the attention of trash comedy aficionados.
MORE Brill: Without a Paddle
© Adrian Martin January 2001