Judge Norman Short seemed to enjoy this Adam Sandler theological comedy. Perhaps that's a sign of the apocalypse.
Be Unafraid. Be Very Unafraid.
Adam Sandler movies tend to fall into the "love them or hate them" category, but even among his fans some movies pull in big numbers at the box office while others fall flat. Little Nicky appears to have been one of the latter, though it may have just needed to find its audience. Metal-head fans of outrageous comedy who are also Adam Sandler aficionados seem to be that audience. I found it an uneven picture to say the least; moments of outright hilarity are mixed in with some painful ones that made me nearly groan. I have a feeling if you asked someone which of those moments were which, you'd get different answers. For me, the funny moments outweighed the bad ones, so I give it a marginal recommendation. No hedging is required for the quality of this DVD release, as once again the New Line Platinum series is the gold standard in technical excellence.
Facts of the Case
Apparently the devil has a 10,000 year term of office, at which time he is expected to hand over the reins of hell to one of his sons. Lucifer (Rodney Dangerfield) did just that, and Satan (Harvey Keitel) took over. But at the end of Satan's term, none of his three sons are really Lord of Darkness material; his elder sons Adrian (Rhys Ifans) and Cassius (Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr.) are too mean even for Hell, and his youngest son Nicky (Sandler) is too sweet, perhaps because he is the offspring of a one night stand at a "Heaven-Hell mixer" where Satan and an angel (Reese Witherspoon) got together. When Satan decides he will just rule another 10,000-year term, Adrian and Cassius become angry, and ascend to Earth to rule there instead. Possessing people there they sow the seeds of destruction, but worse yet, the gates of Hell are closed to new souls because of the sibling's absence. Satan begins to decompose, and he must send Nicky, who seems to be totally innocent of the ways on Earth, up to recapture the brothers and bring them back.
When the film works, it really works. The opening scene, featuring Jon Lovitz (one of several of Sandler's "Saturday Night Live" buddies to appear) is quite funny, as he is caught as a Peeping Tom, and sent to hell to be ravaged by a giant bird. Hell appears to be a funny place to be, so long as you aren't one of the lost souls sentenced there. Hitler gets personal attention from Satan for his daily torment. Most of the scenes in Hell are funny, and the best parts of the picture in my opinion. The sets depicting Hell are lavish, gothic triumphs, a heavy metal concert writ large. Fun stuff.
Not that the scenes topside on Earth are without humor; far from it. Some of the clichés like finding Satanic messages on vinyl records when played backwards got quite a laugh from me, along with the supporting cast members Peter Dante and Jonathan Loughran, who play metal-head Satanists who probably aren't among the devil's top worshippers. Ozzy Osbourne is given nearly mythic deity status in the film, and his cameo is nearly worth the price of admission. Nicky's advisor on Earth is Mr. Beefy, a demon possessed bulldog voiced by Robert Smigel (the guy responsible for SNL cartoons like "The Ambiguously Gay Duo"), and his scenes are sometimes funny, sometimes not. The totally whacked-out nature of the film makes for many scenes like this; something clicks and gains a real laugh while another just makes you wish they'd restrained themselves for once. Restraint doesn't appear to have been a word in the vocabulary of the makers of Little Nicky, for good or for ill. Restraint doesn't appear to have been a word in the vocabulary of the makers of Little Nicky, for good or for ill.
New Line's Platinum Series has raised the bar for years in regards to the standards of the DVD special edition (though now they are going to try to outdo themselves with their new "Infinifilm" series). It grows tiresome at times having to repeat such phrases as "flawless anamorphic transfer" and "astoundingly good soundtracks" when reviewing their discs, but that is one burden I am willing to bear since the results are so terrific for consumers. But here we go again: a perfect, clear, three-dimensional, smooth picture. The scenes in hell are somewhat dark, but blacks are deep and shadow detail excellent, colors are otherwise bright and well saturated, and there isn't so much as a nick or blemish from the source print. Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent, with terrific imagery, an aggressive mix, and manages to elude the front anchored treatment I call "the comedy soundtrack syndrome." It may not be the total "demo disc" soundtrack, but it is much better than most tracks given a comedy. For once, a comedy gets an enveloping, clear soundtrack.
As usual with New Line's Platinum series discs, there is a wealth of extra content. Two commentary tracks lead the pack, the first with star/co-writer Adam Sandler, director/co-writer Steven Brill, and co-writer Tim Herlihy. This one has the flavor of a group of friends joking around and reminiscing about the movie. It is fun, but suffers somewhat from telling us what we are seeing on the screen and from Adam Sandler referring to himself in the third person. The second track is from the supporting cast, including Jon Lovitz, Blake Clark, Peter Dante, Clint Howard, Rhys Ifans, "Tiny" Lister, Jonathan Loughran, Kevin Nealon, Ozzy Osbourne, and Henry Winkler. They were recorded separately, and edited together with host Michael McKean (of "Spinal Tap" fame) providing the center. I thought this one fun as well, with Lovitz and Osbourne being the funniest.
The extra content doesn't stop there; not even close. Two documentaries are next: "Adam Sandler Goes to Hell" is a behind the scenes feature that actually gives behind the scenes information about production design and special effects. Definitely a cut above most of these types of features that seem more promotional than informative. The second is "Satan's Top Forty" and explores heavy metal music. Rock historian Greg Burk, and rock stars such as Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne, and Ronnie James Dio join Little Nicky cast members in talking about the evolution of this style of rock and roll. Next is a collection of 21 deleted scenes and an alternate ending, though most are just extensions or alternate versions of existing sequences, all in anamorphic widescreen. None feature commentary or explanatory text, which is a shame. Nice to know somebody over there had some sense of restraint. A music video from P.O.D and their song "School of Hard Knocks" is also included, in Dolby stereo. Cast and crew filmographies, and a trailer are last and least of the extra content, though there is also DVD-ROM content with the screenplay and such usual features such as screensavers and the host website. As usual, New Line sets the bar, and all on a one-disc set!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said, the film is a mixed bag. Some of the scenes in which Adrian and Cassius possess people to incite them to sin and to take over the world are trite and usually not funny. When the film takes a turn as Nicky finds out he is part angel, the use of his goodly powers are underwhelming at best. I had high hopes for this part of the film, but was disappointed. Also problematic, at least for me, is the overabundance of scatological and really lowbrow humor (I'm talking about lowbrow even in the context of the other jokes in the film). Patricia Arquette plays the love interest Valerie, intentionally underplayed to be a real mouse of a woman. Her scenes with Sandler didn't work particularly well for me. With this film, as is the case in much of Sandler's work, you have to take the bad with the good. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Most of the time it succeeded in getting a laugh, and I have to recommend it with some reservations.
This is one film I'd recommend you rent before you buy, as it certainly isn't for everyone. Certainly if you like the movie, the disc is everything you could ask for and more. I'm glad to have it in my collection, but it might be awhile before I watch it again. I find Sandler's films best taken in small doses, and only the better ones at that. This one falls somewhere in the middle of his work; I liked Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer more, but I've definitely liked others less.
New Line is given yet another commendation (do they have room on their wall for all their awards?) for another outstanding effort. The film itself is given probation, and released to see if viewers will think it better suited to freedom or imprisonment. The film is likely destined for Hell rather than Heaven, but I think it will be at home there.
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