In a new take on the concept of sympathy for the devil, here Satan (Harvey Keitel) is depicted as an entity who, while zestful in his task of ramming pineapples up Hitler's bottom, is nevertheless a fair-minded sort who takes seriously his responsibility to maintain the precarious balance between good and evil. His two eldest sons, the ruthless Adrian ("Notting Hill's" winsomely left-of-center Rhys Ifans
) and the brutish Cassius ("Next Friday's" imposing Tiny Lister), not content to be mere Princes of Darkness, escape Hades to make their own Hell on Earth, but this catalyzes a grave discord that causes the Ruler of the Underworld to literally fall to pieces. The only hope to restore harmony is Satan's youngest spawnling, the mild-mannered Nicky (Adam Sandler, once again essaying the underdog/man-child/unlikely hero persona), who's half-angel on his mother's side. The guileless lad reluctantly journeys to Earth where he's guided in the ways of the world by a talking bulldog (gratingly voiced by Robert Smigel) and a dimwit duet of unflappably upbeat heavy metal fanatics (Peter Dante and Jonathan Loughran). When not distracted by burgeoning romance with the quirky Valerie (Patricia Arquette) or the gastronomic ecstasy of Popeye's chicken, Nicky is busy combing New York City in search of his brothers, who are busy possessing the leaders of church, state and daytime television, thereby corrupting a populace all too eager to embrace doctrines of remorseless hedonism.
Peopled with a carnival of off-kilter characters and chock-a-block with zany cameos, "Little Nicky" is consistently original and entertaining though, as usual, Sandler and frequent collaborators Tim Herlihy and Steven Brill attain genius zeniths of hilarity only to undermine them with half-baked gags or disappointingly juvenile scatology. As unworthy as the latter tendency is, the technique overall should attract both the hoipolloi as well as discerning aficionados of oblique comedy, raising more than a little hell at the boxoffice
Starring Adam Sandler, Rhys Ifans, Patricia Arquette, Harvey Keitel and Tiny Lister. Directed by Steven Brill. Written by Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler and Steven Brill. Produced by Robert Simonds and Jack Giarraputo. A New Line release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, some drug content, language and thematic material. Running time: 89 min