"Bedtime Stories" is clean enough to fly the Walt Disney Pictures flag, yet it's full of bimbos and cleavage and shots of Adam Sandler getting kicked in the shins by a dwarf. In between little-person attacks, our Everyman character suffers the merciless insults of his social betters. Hostility and pathos make for a very popular combination in comedy. It worked for Chaplin, and it works for Sandler, who may not be the new Chaplin—clearly that title belongs to Rob Schneider, who turns up in a couple of cameos here—but who has his own proven Midas touch.
The premise recalls a Jerry Lewis vehicle from the early '60s. Sandler plays Skeeter, an L.A. hotel handyman under the thumb of a germaphobe owner (Richard Griffiths) and a weasel of a manager (Guy Pearce) who is dating the boss' Paris Hiltonesque daughter (Teresa Palmer) while stepping out with a fellow hotel employee ( Lucy Lawless, unrecognizable from her Xena days).
Skeeter and his sister ( Courteney Cox) grew up in a motel bungalow court, and when their father ( Jonathan Pryce, who narrates) sold out to the Griffiths character, he promised the business to Skeeter. But no. The handyman longs, years later, for a crack at running the hotel built on the old bungalow court's site. Now the ruthless owners plan to raze the elementary school where Skeeter's sister works as principal.
While Sis is away, Skeeter must baby-sit for his niece and nephew. The adventure stories Skeeter spins for his initially skeptical charges range from knights in shining armor, to the Old West, to "Star Wars"-type derring-do. As directed by Adam Shankman, who fared very nicely with the musical "Hairspray," the film's fantasy vignettes offer a few laughs, though they never dominate the movie the way they should. The idea is that the stories, where anything can happen, somehow manage to improve Skeeter's real life, which has been clouded with disappointment. It's an adequate idea, dutifully delivered, and "Bedtime Stories" is precisely the sort of thing big stars get interested in once they become parents and want their offspring to talk about something other than Dad ogling Jessica Biel's buttocks in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."
MPAA rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and mild language).
Running time: 1:35.
Opening: Dec. 25
Starring: Adam Sandler (Skeeter Bronson); Keri Russell (Jill); Guy Pearce (Kendall); Russell Brand (Mickey); Richard Griffiths (Mr. Nottingham); Jonathan Pryce (Marty); Courteney Cox (Wendy); Lucy Lawless (Aspen); Teresa Palmer (Violet).
Directed by: Adam Shankman; written by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy; photographed by Michael Barrett; edited by Tom Costain and Michael Tronick; production design by Linda DeScenna; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; produced by Andrew Gunn, Sandler and Jack Giarraputo. A Walt Disney Pictures release.
'Bedtime Stories' --2 stars
'Bedtime Stories' stars Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce
Rating: 2 stars (fair)
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