Having exhausted the thematic worlds of fatherhood (Big Daddy), education ("Billy Madison") and golf ("Happy Gilmore"), Adam Sandler turns to the big issues in "Little Nicky" --nothing less, in fact, than the struggle between Good and Evil. And in the grand scheme of things, that should constitute an upward step for this developmentally arrested star.
Sandler's brand of philosophy, though, finds room for plenty of his customary pee-pee and doo-doo humor. He still likes to laugh at speech impediments and odd body parts. Talking dogs and bullying sibling rivalries command prominent places in his oeuvre. And his fifth film -- in which he plays the son of Satan himself -- interrupts itself constantly for pop culture gags, insults and inanities. Even as his box office has matured into the six-figure realm, Sandler remains preoccupied with inserting his two-cents' worth.
Sandler's Little Nicky is the son of an angel (Reese Witherspoon in the movie's best casting) and Satan himself (Harvey Keitel, a close runner-up). A convoluted set of plot devices send Nicky to New York City, where he falls in love (with a waiflike Patricia Arquette) and thus must confront a tough set of moral dilemmas. Adding to his problems: To save his dad from losing his throne, Nicky must do evil against his brothers (Rhys Ifans and Tiny Lister), both of whom aspire to become full-time devils themselves.
It's an interesting set of themes. Sandler, of course, treats most of them with quick laughs, many of them nervous and nearly all of them aimed below the navel piercing.
Then again, quick laughs aren't always bad laughs, and certainly not when they spring from cameos by the mismatched likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Michael McKean, George Wallace, Ozzy Osborne and Regis Philbin. "Saturday Night Live" alumni Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon and Mary Brill are also in attendance, and SNL animator Robert Smigel supplies the voice of Beefy, a talking bulldog. There's something for everyone, as long as "everyone" owns a baseball cap.
In a purely commercial context, "Little Nicky" proves that Sandler is keeping a careful eye on his competitors in the gross-out arena, the Farrelly Brothers. Regardless of its time-honored dramatic milieu, "Little Nicky" seems pleased as peas to be sassy, profane and dumb. And who expected anything different?