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Dustin Putman

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Bedtime Stories  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Adam Shankman.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Richard Griffiths, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Laura Ann Kesling, Courteney Cox, Teresa Palmer, Lucy Lawless, Aisha Tyler, Jonathan Pryce, Kathryn Joosten, Rob Schneider, Nick Swardson, Allen Covert, Carmen Electra.
2008 – 95 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some mild rude humor and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 19, 2008.
There isn't anything wrong with fantasy films targeting the family market—expanding one's imagination in such a way is never a bad thing—but when said flights of fancy are set within a real-world setting, it is imperative that there be some levity to balance it all out. "Bedtime Stories" doesn't bother, nor does it even attempt to explain the mystical goings-on of the plot. The audience is expected to accept the leaps in logic while the characters barely bat an eyelash at the amazing and unbelievable happenings surrounding them. Thus, in addition to pandering, the film's script by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy (2002's "Mr. Deeds") forces the people they have created to act unlike any natural human being would in the same circumstances.

As a child, Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) lived happily in the cozy, down-home Sunny Vista Motel with his big sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) and their manager father Marty (Jonathan Pryce). When Marty's finances took a nosedive, he was forced to sell the place to tycoon Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), who in turn tore the place down and built up a lavish high-rise hotel. For twenty-five years, Skeeter has diligently worked there as a handyman, hoping that Nottingham might one day make him manager over the snooty Kendall (Guy Pearce).

Just as Skeeter is faced with the prospect of seeing his dream finally become a reality—Nottingham has asked him and Kendall to present theme ideas to him when a new giant hotel remodeling is announced—he is tossed further responsibility in the forms of young nephew and niece Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) and Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling). Elementary school principal Wendy has just been laid off from work and must travel to Arizona for a few days for a job interview, leaving her children in the care of Wendy's teacher colleague Jill (Keri Russell) in the day and Skeeter at night. As Skeeter bonds with Patrick and Bobbi over the bedtime stories he makes up, a strange thing begins to happen in his normal life—whatever the kids add to the stories starts coming true. Skeeter has no explanation for these occurrences, but he figures they may actually be able to help him in winning over Nottingham. What he doesn't yet know is that the local elementary school is set to be demolished to make way for the new hotel construction.

Directed by Adam Shankman (2007's "Hairspray"), "Bedtime Stories" is innocuous enough, basically harmless (one could do without the dwarf jokes, though), and yet treats its viewers like fools. A movie has the ability to make plausible the idea that fictional tales are bleeding over into reality, but there should be consistency and a firm set of rules in how it is done. "Bedtime Stories" constantly contradicts itself. One minute, the gumballs falling from the sky are revealed to be from a truck crash on the bridge overhead. The next minute, a totally imagined character from one of the stories is showing up in front of Skeeter. At other times, the prophecies force characters to act in a way that they clearly have no control over. All the while, no one involved questions it. How else to explain a scene where Skeeter and Jill are walking along the beach and Skeeter saves a man's life by jumping on his stomach and releasing a whole fish lodged in his throat? Jill treats this as if it happens every day when any normal person would be freaking out. Meanwhile, no explanation is provided for Patrick's and Bobbi's cosmic powers.

This is one of those stock family films where the cloying, artificially whimsical instrumental music score overwhelms each scene as a way of telling the audience what emotion they should be feeling. Subtlety is not its strong suit, and neither is believability. When Skeeter gives his proposal for a fresh hotel theme, he must use friend Mickey (Russell Brand) as translator after a bee stings his tongue. After rattling off a bunch of vague feel-good sentiments that do not satisfactorily explain Skeeter's theme idea, Nottingham applauds and gives him the managerial promotion over Kendall, whose own presentation was far superior and more clear. Why? Because the screenplay demands it. All of this slapstick, alas, proves fairly pointless once the discovery is made that the building is to go where an elementary school sits. Not just any school, though; it's the one Patrick and Bobbi attend, and that Wendy has just lost her job at.

Lest it seem like "Bedtime Stories" is a complete loss, the film does have some nice moments. The estranged sibling relationship between Skeeter and Wendy is given trace screentime, but they do share a sweet conversation about the people they used to be as children, and the adults they have now become. The set-pieces that bring Skeeter's stories to life—one is set at a magical castle, one in the wild west, and another in ancient Rome—boast energy and creativity, as does the use of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" during a key moment. Patrick's and Bobbi's off-the-wall input into the tales are particularly humorous, as when a gaggle of women with eyes for the hero (played by Sandler) nervously start doing the hokey-pokey. And Richard Griffiths (2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") shows a real comic flair as the germaphobic Nottingham.

The rest of "Bedtime Stories" is safely in take-it-or-leave-it territory. The plot shows potential, but is underdeveloped and overstuffed. Adam Sandler (2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan") wavers between affable and grating as Skeeter. Russell Brand, such a standout in 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," feels out of place as Mickey, his ballsy personality censored to the point of irritation. Newcomers Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling are cute as Patrick and Bobbi, but their unpolished acting skills shine through. As Jill, Keri Russell (2007's "Waitress") is given the thankless task of being Sandler's forced love interest. That Skeeter doesn't even remember her name until the halfway point—before this, he is always getting it wrong—is disrespectful instead of charming. Some kids will probably be entertained by "Bedtime Stories," but they will have to be undiscriminating. The film is a paperweight trifle with a low intelligence level, not nearly as funny or magical as it could have—and should have—been.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman