Little Nikita Reviews
In "Little Nikita," Poitier portrays Roy Parmenter, an FBI agent preoccupied with Phoenix's Jeff Grant, a young Air Force Academy hopeful. Energetic and feeling trapped in his suburban life, Jeff, seventeen, wants nothing more than to graduate and call flying his living. But Parmenter couldn't care less about the teen's hopes and dreams; he's more infatuated by the boy's parents (Richard Jenkins and Caroline Kava), whose identities prove to be contradictory after undergoing a routine background check. A few days of snooping later and Parmenter finds that the Grants are hardly who they say they are - they are actually sleeper agents from the Soviet Union, deep undercover and apparently finished with the lives they once lived.
Of course, Jeff is completely in the dark when it comes to his true identity; in his mind, he's no different than any of the other young men on his block. And so Parmenter, who follows him around like a pesky gnat, is a pest who has a weird way of checking up with Air Force applicants. But the agent is less concerned with the dangers the "Grants" could possibly inflict on the U.S. and more with the danger that could be inflicted upon them; within the last few months, KGB agents are mysteriously being picked off by an anonymous force. They, despite throwing towels into their respective espionage bins, could become victims if they aren't careful. And so begins a deadly chase, Jeff creating conflict as he disregards peril in favor of passionate identity seeking.
We've seen films like "Little Nikita" many times previously, its clichés (from the constantly smoking, emotionless but brutal Russian villains to the determined, acutely patriotic hero) abundant and its innovations next to nothing. Its stabs at hard-hitting drama (namely the familial troubles that arise from Jeff's questioning of his selfhood) are after school special at best, and its attempts to veritably depict Cold War conflicts are shammy. The plot grows more tiresomely derisory as it goes along.
And yet, "Little Nikita" is besettingly watchable, in no doubt because Poitier and Phoenix are leading men able to make a wearisome film inimitably appealing, Poitier a lead of unbreakable doggedness, Phoenix a successor to James Dean whose edgy appeal only grows more abiding as time drags on. So maybe the film's dumbed-down politics and inept thrills are enough to turn most off - but as long as actors of its caliber are leading the way, there are worse ways to spend ninety-plus minutes.
So the plot is a big weakness but combined with the terrible script Little Nikita makes all its cast and crew look like amateurs. There is seriously only one reason to watch this movie.....the crazy talented RIVER PHOENIX. Phoenix is the only one able to breathe some light and life into the script and his scenes are the only ones worthwhile watching. In a film that is undeserving of such talent River Phoenix comes away unscathed. His performance is solid even if at certain points he too looks embarrassed both by the lines he has to say and the stereotypical Russians he is playing against. Phoenix was the best actor of his generation and it is a deep tragedy that he was taken so young.
My verdict on this film is: AVERAGE script, AVERAGE plot, AVERAGE acting from all but River Phoenix who is great in every part.
Little Nikita is the kind of film you may want to catch on TV if you have a couple of spare hours. If you are a fan of River Phoenix then you probably want to check it out but don't expect too much, his performance is good but the movie itself is far from his best.