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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Little Nikita (1988)

Russian Diplomat: I heard you gave him the code name Scuba.
Karpov: No, an FBI agent did.
Russian Diplomat: But why?
Karpov: He loves water.
Russian Diplomat: Like a shark.
Karpov: No, like a rat.

- Richard Holden, Richard Bradford

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: October 20, 2002

Stars: Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, Richard Jenkins, Caroline Kava, Richard Bradford
Other Stars: Richard Lynch, Loretta Devine, Lucy Deakins, Jerry Hardin
Director: Richard Benjamin

MPAA Rating: PG for mild violence, language
Run Time: 01h:36m:43s
Release Date: September 17, 2002
UPC: 043396078772
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I strongly believe that in order to become a great filmmaker, one must learn how to detect and avoid the filmmaking pitfalls that will inevitably result in a disastrous film. Little Nikita should be mandatory viewing for any budding filmmaker, as every element is like a blueprint for how not to make a motion picture. For anyone else, the film is a complete waste of time. The only person who might find any entertainment value in this lifeless vehicle is someone who has never seen a movie.

Little Nikita tells the story of Jeff Grant (River Phoenix), a high school senior with aspirations to join the Air Force Academy. When Air Force recruiter, Roy Parmenter (Sidney Poitier) asks Jeff the motivations behind his desire to join the Academy, Jeff responds "I like to go fast!" As it turns out, the Air Force interview is nothing more than a way to bring these two characters face to face, which is just one of the uncountable problems with the screenplay. When Parmenter conducts a background check on Jeff, he discovers that his parents are inactive Russian spies, known as "sleepers." Meanwhile, a renegade double agent known only as Scuba has come out of hiding and is murdering all of the sleepers. This predicament leads the Russian agent Karpov to travel to America to find Scuba and bring him back to Mother Russia. What is Parmenter's interest in all of this? Coincidentally, Parmenter is actually an FBI agent with a vendetta for Scuba, who killed his partner 20 years ago.

I honestly wonder if the story for Little Nikita was not stolen from a poor eight-year-old child whose homework assignment was to simply, "Create a story involving spies." The film has been written with such negligence that I get a headache just thinking about it. There are random plot pieces scattered throughout, and the screenwriters forgot to add the necessary glue that ties all of these pieces together, resulting in a film entirely based around ludicrous conveniences. As the story is absurd and illogical, we are left staring into a large void.

Not even the greatest director could salvage this poorly developed project, but Richard Benjamin (yes, the actor from such films as Saturday the 14th and Love at First Bite) actually manages to make it much worse. Granted, he and the actors had an impossible job in trying to give life to underdeveloped characters, but his lack of subtlety draws even further attention to the innumerable flaws of the screenplay. It is as if Benjamin knows the project is dreadfully disorganized and he does not trust his audience to understand what is happening. I noticed moments throughout the film where it almost appeared as if the actors were about to wink at the camera after delivering their lines.

Little Nikita is so bad, that I actually feel somewhat embarrassed for those who were involved with the production. When the end credits started to roll, I felt as if I had turned to stone; my jaw was locked wide open in amazement. Yet, it is quite ironic how a terrible film can actually be a positive influence. In addition to the aforementioned tutorial, Little Nikita serves as an almost unattainable benchmark in which all other films can be compared. To anyone who has always wanted to make a motion picture, I say go for it. No matter how low the budget, no matter how many mistakes are made, and no matter how bad the end result may beórest assure that it will most likely never be as bad as Little Nikita.

Rating for Style: F
Rating for Substance: F


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic widescreen at approximately 1.85:1, Little Nikita is quite an impressive image transfer for a catalog title. Color is fantastic, appearing vibrant throughout with only the slightest hint of dinginess due to the age of the source material. The overall aesthetic is incredibly clean, with few distractions. Film artifacts rear their ugly head on occasion, including one moment that proved mind-boggling. Otherwise, the image is smooth with a deep black level that adds to the sense of depth.

Also available is a 1.33:1 pan & scan version.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is predominately monaural. Stereo separation is occasionally present with sound effects and music cues. Surround use is nearly nonexistent, with the exception of a robust presence during one scene. Otherwise, the dialogue-driven soundtrack is locked front and center. Low end is not a factor; I detected little activity below 100Hz. The overall fidelity of the soundtrack is quite clean with no signs of distortion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Korean with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Race the Sun, To Sir, With Love
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only offerings are a visually horrendous trailer for Little Nikita and trailers for two other Columbia TriStar films.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Typically, when an older film is released on DVD with anamorphic video, it is because a large group of people have specifically requested it. If one of these people is reading this review, please e-mail me. We need to talk. I found no redeeming qualities in this film, and I would love an opportunity for enlightenment.


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