There's nothing particularly sinister about Adam Sandler's Everyschlub persona. But for a lot of moviegoers, the idea of Sandler playing the spawn of Satan, as he does in his new movie, "Little Nicky," sounds an awful lot like typecasting. For this crowd, Sandler represents the death of cinematic comedy as we know it, the downfall of the house that Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Sturges, and Wilder built, and the comic most likely to be awarded a medal in France.

It's worth remembering that Jim Carrey was proclaimed the death of wit, too, before the comedy elite took him to their bosom. and the new film's premise doesn't seem like a half-diabolical idea for a Sandler vehicle. Back in his "Saturday Night Live" days, some of his best moments came when he played incorrigibly pathetic characters like Canteen Boy or Shaky-Lipped Guy, to name a couple of his funnier, lesser-remembered losers. Sandler seems to harbor a genuine affection for sad sacks, creating caricatures so pitiable they make Charlie Brown look like Brad Pitt. Through an utter lack of awareness of their mental, physical, or social handicaps, they come out ahead.

That conceit, translated to the big screen, finds Sandler playing Nicky, a son of Satan with a debilitating facial tic and deadly speech impediment. He's an unlikely heir to hell whose fatal combination of good-heartedness and geekiness makes him utterly destined to fail at his mission in life.

The movie might have been an amusing parable about "the banality of evil," to use a banal aphorism. But "Little Nicky" is at heart just another adolescent fantasy about being endowed with superhuman powers and having to hold 'em back until provoked just a little...too...far--at which point all holy heck breaks loose. Anyone hoping for the slightest taste of satire or black comedy should instead expect to settle in for a loooong hour and a half of peeing jokes, animal jokes, gay jokes, boob jokes, and Hieronymous Bosch jokes.

Okay, just kidding about the Hieronymous Bosch part. But it's worth asking, Whose hell is this, anyway? Not Bosch's, not the Bible's, not Dante's, and maybe only vaguely AC/DC's. Not that we look to an Adam Sandler movie for theological pointers, but, mythologically, "Little Nicky" is so inept, it can't even come up with a coherent subterranean reality. Toward the beginning, one of hell's more hapless minions (SNL's Kevin Nealon, who spends most of the film with female breasts growing out of his head) explains that he's a mere demon, not a devil.

Fair enough. Then we're told that Nicky is the son of the Devil, the ultimate ruler of Hades--Harvey Keitel with a (need we say it) goatee. But wait: This ruling devil is the son of another minor character, Lucifer, who leeringly pops in from time to time. There's no good reason why the Devil and Lucifer should be two separate characters, except that the latter is played by Rodney Dangerfield, an idol of Sandler's, and you can guess that maybe the star decided to squeeze a part in for him at the last minute, hierarchy be damned.

The script continues to make up rules as it goes along, treading on sense in search of plot. Nicky's brothers, truly wicked hunks with no visible impediments, defy dad and travel up to Manhattan, dooming Papa Devil to a quick disintegration unless Nicky can bring them back to the underworld. Up at ground level, boy meets girl (Patricia Arquette fails miserably at equaling Sandler's nerdiness, though sight of her trying to locate the hero's lips on his distorted face for a smooch provides one of the movie's five or so chuckles). Thanks to a good deed, Li'l Nicky also gets to visit heaven, which turns out to be populated by giggling Valley Girl angels.

Does Nicky want to stay in heaven? Hell, no! But neither does he want to return to the fiery place. Nicky chooses to live out his oft-stated mission as restoring "the balance between good and evil."

Now here's a message America can relate to: Never mind moral relativism, anything outside absolute dead center sucks, be it virtue or depravity.

It would make a fitting capper to say the film reinforces this credo by being mediocre itself. Alas, that would be giving a bit too much credit to director Steven Brill, who, to borrow an evil old saying, seems never to have seen a motion picture before, much less made one. (He has, on a few low-budget occasions, though the credits you're more likely to recognize are his scriptwriting contributions to all three "Mighty Ducks" movies.) And it would be saying far too much for the randomness of the screenplay by Brill, Sandler, and perennial collaborator Tim Herlihy.

If the filmmakers sold their souls, it wasn't to the Devil: "Little Nicky" features some of the most appallingly blatant product placements of all time: Popeyes Chicken is repeatedly upheld as a symbol of all that is right on earth, while Diet Coke shows up in heaven, and when Nicky needs to prove he can perform an act of evil, he transforms a Coke to a Pepsi. Maybe hell is a place where all the gags have been bought and paid for. Maybe we're already there.

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