There are two kinds of Adam Sandler movies: the kind where he plays a complete idiot and uses a (supposedly) funny voice through it all and the kind where he just plays a sweet doofus with his regular voice. Generally, those regular voice movies (“Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy,” and “The Wedding Singer”) are more broadly appealing than the funny voice movies, like “The Waterboy.” Although this movie is in the funny voice category, it benefits from higher production values and a strong supporting cast and ranks as one of the better Sandler movies. That voice gets extremely annoying very quickly, though — like after the first thirty seconds.
Sandler, surrounded by his usual gang of college pals and SNL alums, plays the title character, the third son of a loving father who happens to be Satan (Harvey Keitel). The two older sons (wrestling star Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr., and “Notting Hill’s” wacky roommate Rhys Ifans) are furious that Satan will not allow one of them take over as commander-in-chief of hell, so they decide to leave and form their own Hell in New York City. Unless Little Nicky can get them back home within a week, their father will literally fall apart. So even though he has never been to earth before, he goes to New York to try to bring them back. A talking guardian bulldog is there to help.
Little Nicky learns important lessons about life on earth, from eating and sleeping to staying out of the way of heavy moving metal things. He also learns about the butterflies in the stomach feeling he gets from talking to a pretty girl (Patricia Arquette) and some other feelings he gets from eating a cake laced with marijuana. And he learns something about who he really is and how powerful he can be.
All of this is just an excuse, of course, for a lot of low-wattage jokes, usually repeated for no additional benefit. But the movie is enlivened by some funny cameos (Rodney Dangerfield as Satan’s father, Reese Witherspoon as an angel, Henry Winkler as himself, and a surprise visit by a rock star). Sandler fans will enjoy it, but it will not have the cross-over appeal of “The Wedding Singer.”
Parents should know that this movie is right up at the R edge of PG-13, with one use of the F-word and a lot of other strong language and sexual references. One of Satan’s daily tasks is to punish a French-maid’s-uniform-clad Hitler by inserting a pineapple into his rear end. Satan punishes another character by making realistic-looking breasts grow out of his head, and in subsequent scenes they get fondled by other characters. A character is a weird transvestite who pours hot wax on his chest and plays with his nipples. A voyeur gets sent to hell. In addition to the marijuana mentioned above, the devils lower the drinking age to 10, and we see drunken children coming out of a bar (and puking). They also change New York’s tourism slogan to “I love hookers.” And there are some jokes that can be interpreted as homophobic.
Families who see this movie should talk about the idea of a “balance between good and evil.” Is there a balance? Why? They may also want to talk about their own ideas about heaven and hell.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Wedding Singer” and “Happy Gilmore.”