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Movie Review

Little Nikita

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teen to Adult
Spy, Drama
1 hr. 38 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Relevant Issues
Cover art for “Little Nikita”
Featuring: Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, Richard Jenkins, Caroline Kava, Richard Bradford, Richard Lynch, Loretta Devine, Lucy Deakins
Director: Richard Benjamin
Producer: Harry Gittes, Art Levinson
Distributor: Columbia

This film is average or a little below average for its genre, but Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix are both outstanding as always and do a great job within what they have to work with. The theme and content are a little edgy for a plain PG rating.

Jeff Grant (Phoenix) is the only child of a picture-perfect American family. Although he at 17 is stretching his wings, he and his parents (Caroline Kava, “Born on the Fourth of July”; Richard Jenkins) all care deeply for each other. He has a girlfriend, is planning for college—everything’s great. Until Jeff, without telling his parents, applies to Air Force Academy. Running the necessary background checks, FBI agent Parmenter (Poitier) discovers that Jeff’s parents are Russian spies—deep-cover Agents in Place, or “Sleepers.” Inactive for 20 years, the Grants assume that they’ll never be called into duty again; but there’s no guarantee.

Coincidentally, there’s a renegade double agent, “Scuba” (Richard Lynch, “Invasion USA”), extorting payment from the KGB and killing off all the Russian agents in his area of the U.S. until his demands are met. Also coincidentally, Scuba killed Parmenter’s partner 20 years ago. Agent Karpov (Richard Bradford) is sent in to deal with the situation. Karpov doesn’t have a problem with using the Grants as bait to draw Scuba out. Perhaps Parmenter (who’s working the case alone and “unofficially”) doesn’t either. Or perhaps he does. it’s a typical spy story where nothing goes as planned, yet everything falls into place.

Content Warnings

There are several killings shown onscreen or implied. Lynch’s character is not developed, but is thoroughly disgusting. Many of the other characters aren’t clear-cut good or bad, although we’re led to sympathize with the Grants over what they’re now facing after their long period of Americanization. There are about a dozen profanities, one of every variety. Normally, a single use of f* requires a PG-13 rating; the studio must have appealed. There are some family arguments; but the Grants’ closeness remains intact, once Jeff gets over the initial shock of learning that he’s been lied to all his life and his name is really Nikita. There’s a gratuitous implied sex scene between Poitier’s character and a high-school guidance counselor (Loretta Devine); due to the darkness, no nudity is visible. There are also some unnecessary sexual references (attempts at comic relief).

The numerous plot holes and coincidences, and the unrealistic behavior of some of the characters, require us to suspend disbelief throughout. I still found the film watchable because I enjoy the two lead actors. However, Poitier and Phoenix each had better 1988 films with similar subject matter (“Shoot to Kill” and “Running on Empty”, respectively).

Topic for discussion

Betrayal (finding out someone/something isn’t what you thought). Any of us might be betrayed by family, friends, church, government. Only Jesus is absolutely reliable—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

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