When young Jeff Grant (River Phoenix) applies to the Air Force Academy it is veteran FBI agent Roy Parmenter's (Sidney Poitier) job to interview him and do a background check. When he does his suspicions are raised when the computer says that Jeff's parents died in the 19th century. It is then he discovers that Grant's parents, Richard (Richard Jenkins) and Elizabeth (Caroline Kava), are in fact sleepers, Russian spies sent to America with their son to lead a normal life until they get a call to action all of which young Jeff has no idea off. But with the deadly, renegade agent Scuba (Richard Lynch) currently blackmailing the KGB as he sets about killing their sleepers it brings things to ahead especially as Scuba was the man who killed Roy's partner some 20 years earlier.
Back in 1988 if the local cinema had been closer "Little Nikita" would have been the sort of movie I would have gone to see because it starred River Phoenix. But I am pretty sure that whilst the cinema would have had many teens in there it would have had plenty of grown ups as it also stars Sidney Poitier. The trouble is that whilst "Little Nikita" offers something for teenagers and grown ups in the casting it falls short when it comes to pretty much everything else.
Take the storyline, the words tangled web really is a polite way of saying convoluted as we have Jeff just happening to be applying to a military academy without his parents knowing. We have the ridiculous computer scene where Parmenter types in Jeff's name and it only finds the one match with parents who died the previous century. I could keep going on because "Little Nikita" is one of those movies where the writers have come up with an idea which doesn't get the time and attention to detail to make it work on screen. But I wonder if that was the point as half the time this drama seems to be trying to make you laugh with Jeff's parents being part of a civil re-enactment group and of course look over the top being so.
The trouble is that "Little Nikita" is trying to appeal to two different audiences and can't pull off the juggling act. For grown ups we have this thriller about a renegade agent who is killing sleepers but in order to not make it too dull for the teen audience who showed up because of Phoenix it is dumbed right down with that annoying lack of detail and scenes which seem to be thrown in for some light relief. It is an issue which many a movie suffers when they are going for two diverse audiences and whilst convoluted "Little Nikita" is still kind of entertaining in a shallow way.
But there is a knock on issue from "Little Nikita" trying to be entertaining for both teens and grown ups and that is no character depth and as such it wastes its acing talent. There is not a single actor in the movie who has anything more to do than say their lines and act like a stereotype. In the case of Phoenix that means look cool when you come flying in on a bike whilst dismounting by jumping off the back with it still moving. Phoenix was capable of a whole lot more as is Poitier but neither of them get the chance to show any of their skills.
What this all boils down to is that "Little Nikita" ends up a troubled movie as whilst mildly entertaining it's not as good as it could have been. And the majority of the movies issues come down from it trying to appeal to young and old but in doing so dumbing things down to the point that not only does "Little Nikita" end up convoluted but also shallow.