Bedtime Stories (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Bedtime Stories Poster

For Adam Sandler, who has lived most of his on-screen life in the realm of PG-13, Bedtime Stories represents a new direction: family friendliness. With his characteristic sarcasm dialed down and his profanity and sexual humor nearly absent, Sandler half-stumbles his way through this unfamiliar terrain. In the end, however, it's less the lead actor than the writers and director Adam Shankman who make Bedtime Stories forgettable. The premise - that of children's fables coming true - provides the kind of rich tapestry into which a great family film could be woven. Unfortunately, the makers of Bedtime Stories are interested only in cheap humor, surface sentimentality, and quick payoffs. This is a rare time when young ones will get more out of a Sandler movie than their parents, who may have grown up with him when he was on Saturday Night Live.

Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman who agrees to babysit for his niece, Bobbi (Laura Ann Kessling), and nephew, Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit), while his sister, Wendy (Courteney Cox), is out of town job-hunting. He will share the task with Wendy's friend, Jill (Keri Russell). Jill gets the kids during the day while Skeeter watches them at night. Because they have no television, the only way to entertain them is to tell them bedtime stories. Much to Skeeter's surprise, the adventures he weaves at night come to pass (after a fashion, at least) in his life the next day. When he recognizes the connection, he begins to tailor the stories to benefit him in various ways: getting a chance to compete with his arch-nemesis Kendall (Guy Pearce) to run a new hotel, rescuing the damsel-in-distress daughter (Teresa Palmer) of his boss (Richard Griffiths) from roving hoards of paparazzi, and having a romantic moment interrupted by Abe Lincoln.

Bedtime Stories offers four tales within the movie - a medieval adventure, a Western, an action/romance, and a space opera - none of which does more than provide a template for events that unfold in Skeeter's life. Any slight entertainment gleaned from this aspect of the production, which is less clever than it could be, is ruined by the sappy ending, which leaves no cliché from this kind of film unturned. For a creative premise, it's downright dispiriting to see such a banal interpretation. Bedtime Stories could have been magical, but even at its best, it's barely passable.

For the most part, Sandler is restrained (no scraps with Bob Barker), leaving the over-the-top moments to Russell Brand, who isn't nearly as funny here as he was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Brand, whose reputation has become sullied in the U.K. as a result of a tasteless radio prank, showed greater comedic aptitude in the earlier movie; all he does here is scream loudly at inappropriate times. The screenplay dangles two potential love interests in front of Sandler: Kerri Russell's girl-next-door persona and the Paris Hilton-esque character played by Teresa Palmer. There's never any question with whom Sandler will lock lips, but there's more zing between Palmer and Sandler than there is between the fated-from-the-beginning Russell and him.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about Bedtime Stories isn't the cheesiness of the special effects (there's almost a charm to them) or the flatness of the fables, but the presence of an annoying CGI guinea pig with bulging, Marty Feldman eyes. It's as if no Disney movie made these days can go forward without a cute animal on board. In this case, the animal's antics aren't childish; they're infantile. And the huge eyes, rather than being amusing or endearing, are kind of creepy.

On some level, I suppose Bedtime Stories is attempting to say something about the importance of imagination in real life endeavors but, if that was the goal, the filmmakers might have been advised to take a cue from The Princess Bride. In that movie, a grandfather tells a bedtime story to his grandson and what results is a modern fantasy/comedy classic. But, despite paying lip service to the sort of thing The Princess Bride achieved, Bedtime Stories isn't interested in being creative; it wants to be familiar. It wants to be a PG, Disney-fied Adam Sandler feature, and that's what results. Perhaps there are potential viewers who possess a perverse curiosity to find out what kind of unholy offspring could result from a Sandler/Disney collaboration (under the aegis of a director whose previous credits include Cheaper By the Dozen 2, which may have been used as a partial template for Bedtime Stories' cliché-mongering). The filmmakers likely set out to make a family film for the ages. To a degree, they succeeded - assuming that the "ages" in question are under ten.

Bedtime Stories (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2008-12-25
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1