I don't really think of Adam Sandler as a polarizing creature, but the prevailing sense seems to be that you're either in his camp or you're not, either you're entertained by his low brow, mush-mouth humor, or you're not. For me, it comes and goes. I've liked stuff of his in the past, really enjoyed The Wedding Singer - Totally Awesome Edition, The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Punch-Drunk Love (Single Disc Edition) and 50 First Dates (Widescreen Special Edition). But I've also cringed at LITTLE NICKY, MR. DEEDS, ANGER MANAGEMENT and now this one, BEDTIME STORIES. I had hopes for this one.
The cool premise is what drew me in. Adam Sandler plays yet another lovable underdog loser. Here, he is Skeeter Bronson, a lowly, ill-treated maintenance man toiling at the posh high-rise Sunny Vista Nottingham Hotel, which years ago used to be his pappy's humble hotel, before all the fancy remodelings. Skeeter visits his travel-bound sister (Courtney Cox) and is talked into babysitting her little boy and girl for a week.
His sister is one of those uptight broads who doesn't own a TV and reads to her kids from books like "Rainbow Alligator Saves the Wetlands" and "The Organic Squirrel Gets A Bike Helmet." Skeeter hasn't seen these kids in four years, what with the brother-in-law harboring a hate on for him, so there's some awkwardness in the air. Sis has banned TV and video games for her kids and feeds them crappalicious health foods. As a last recourse Skeeter begins to regale the children with his own invented bedtime stories - these tailored around his hapless life experiences - only to be startled when his fairy tales take on life and begin to impact his everyday reality. This being an Adam Sandler character, thoughts on how to capitalize on this magical phenomenon soon crop up. This being a Disney flick, the movie audience feels secure in that Skeeter will soon turn a corner and become that guy who does the right thing.
There's a subplot concerning an elementary school about to be demolished to make way for a fancy mammoth hotel. What are the odds that Skeeter's sister works at that school and that the projected hotel is actually a chain extension of the Sunny Vista Nottingham Hotel? Subtle are the inner workings of a Sandler flick.
Thing is, BEDTIME STORIES is one of the more kid-friendly flicks Sandler's ever been in, so from that angle, I guess I recommend it for the tiny tots. I do think they'll laugh themselves silly and, as usual with Disney, there are good family values to pick up on. However, the more sophisticated kids may turn their nose up at Sandler's predictable sense of humor - or not. It all depends on if you like potty jokes, dwarves kicking you in the shin or snot monsters slobbering all over you. Sandler is more restrained and does tone down the raunchy stuff, to merit that PG rating. And who would've thunk that I'd feel sorry for a defanged Sandler? And I guess, with the trend nowadays of injecting that hip, contemporary wink within all these fairy tale comedies, the film had to follow suit. But, unlike in Enchanted (Widescreen Edition), the SHREK flicks, and even Ella Enchanted (Widescreen Edition), the modern-day twists in the CG-heavy fairy tale sequences feel forced and unfunny, with Sandler's laziness stampeding over the film's few grace notes. And I couldn't help but feel that the guinea pig with the disturbingly huge saucer eyes was put in mostly as a running go-to gag, so that, if the kids aren't laughing - well, hey, kids, look at the funny-looking guinea pig!
Keri Russell comes in as Skeeter's co-baby-sitter and projected love interest, although there isn't much spark between the two actors. Following a certain romantic cliche, Sandler and Russell's characters are almost instantly at each other's throats and for much of the film engage in antagonistic banter, leaving me feeling lukewarm. Guy Pearce is over-the-top as the prissy, conniving hotel manager, although he does get a thumbs up for that one song and dance routine. Old Xena Warrior Princess herself, Lucy Lawless, is unrecognizable and wasted as the snooty assistant who hangs her star to Pearce's manager. Jonathan Pryce plays Skeeter's dad and Pryce is instrumental in nicely setting up the story, but then he disappears once Sandler comes into the picture. Courtney Cox is also wasted and not much in the film.
Also helping to sink the movie is that the fairy tale sequences come off as dull. There's a lack of wit and charm, and, after a while, a mind-numbing repetitiveness as we see the cast time and again play characters in Skeeter's self-absorbed fairy tale dramas. There's a scene early on in which Skeeter's cool dad states, "Your fun is only limited by your imagination." If only the screenplay writers had heeded their own advice. As it is, when I hear another line in the movie, this time coming from Sandler - "I'm like the stink on your feet -- I'll always be there." - I can't help but feel vaguely threatened.
On one hand, I liked Skeeter's ringtone, and I like that the flighty Paris Hilton type actually turns out to be an okay character. On the other hand, Rob Schneider makes his token appearance, and he's never been more unwelcome.
Maybe I've been too hard on INKHEART.