HELL ISN'T SO BAD if you can jam on your guitar and headbang to Metallica CDs in your bedroom. That's the underworld for Satan's youngest

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Hell hath no fury

Borscht Belt humor gets tepid reheating.

HELL ISN'T SO BAD if you can jam on your guitar and headbang to Metallica CDs in your bedroom. That's the underworld for Satan's youngest son Nicky (Adam Sandler), who could've been an extra in the 1991 comedy Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, in which Keanu Reeves battled the Grim Reaper. (Coincidentally, I caught part of Bogus on cable after viewing Nicky, and from what I saw, Bogus is a lot funnier.)

LITTLE NICKY

directed by Steven Brill with Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette, and Harvey Keitel opens November 10 at Metro, Northgate, Pacific Place, other theaters

Like Sandler's gross cartoon caricature hero in The Waterboy, Nicky is a dim-witted man-boy with a speech impediment. He also has a permanent scowl on his face caused by an encounter with a shovel. But as ridiculous as Nicky may be, Sandler's retrograde script is less amusing than your average Friday night sitcom. (Does anyone these days think gays and cross-dressers are so surprising?) Nicky is probably the most half-assed retelling of King Lear ever made: Papa Satan (Harvey Keitel) reaches his 10,000th year of rule, when one of his three sons is expected to take over the throne.

But the two older kids (Tommy Lister Jr. and Notting Hill's Rhys Ifans) go topside to New York and undo Dad's handiwork by upsetting the entire balance between heaven and hell. Their rebellion causes a deadly, leprosy-like illness in Satan, and it's up to Nicky to save him by halting his brothers' mischief up in Manhattan, where love (with Patricia Arquette's character) and nutty Sandler-style adventures ensue. Yet the urgency of his supposed life-and-death mission makes no sense. What's the big deal if Satan dies? Wouldn't he just go back to hell?

Sandler has played the underdog countless times, and he's done it much better in the more likable Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and The Wedding Singer. It's too bad that the $25 million actor, bolstered by his Hollywood friends (Reese Witherspoon, Ozzy Osbourne, and Quentin Tarantino make cameos), doesn't realize that his tired old schtick would be better off dead.

 
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