The Reader **
The Reader wonders what would have happened if Benjamin Braddock had discovered that Mrs. Robinson was a Nazi war criminal. OK, that summary may be a little flippant, but not much. And it suggests the forced solemnity at the heart of this forced allegory about guilt, responsibility and how much succeeding generations should pay emotionally for the sins of their fathers.
Ralph Fiennes, in one of his most emotionally stilted performances, plays Michael Berg, a German lawyer who, as a wide-eyed teenager, had an affair with an older woman, a streetcar conductor named Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). The movie flips back and forth between Michael as a guilt-ridden adult, Michael as a confused law student and Michael as a giddy teen (the latter two played by newcomer David Kross).
The reason for Michael's increasing unhappiness? Years after Hanna cuts off their relationship by disappearing, he stumbles upon her during a war crimes trial. That cuts to the crux of the story, which is not concerned so much with why Hanna did what she did (about which the film is purposefully vague), but how Michael should feel about it and her.
The Reader is ponderously self-important and smugly Socratic, brimming with unfinished sentences and pregnant pauses; if a single character would only say what he thinks, the movie would be over in 30 minutes. It also seems proudly aware of its dysfunctional moral compass, one where a major character regards being illiterate as a more shameful crime than murder. Finely nuanced and calibrated performances from Winslet (with a convincing German accent) and Kross notwithstanding, this is one film audiences won't embrace nearly as emphatically as it embraces itself.
Rated R for sexuality and nudity. Time 123 minutes.
Bedtime Stories *
If you look closely at Bedtime Stories, it is almost possible to see how the cast and crew were making up the movie as it went along. There's certainly no evidence of a script. It's just a series of nonsensical events that at times are anchored by reality and at other times are pure fantasy. They should have chosen one and stuck with it.
No one would notice this lack of direction if the movie were at least funny.
Adam Sandler plays the latest in his long line of lovable losers. This one is Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman who longs for the day he will be in charge. Bronson discovers, when he must watch his niece and nephew for a week, that elements of his made-up bedtime stories come true the next day. He decides to use this gift to get the job he has wanted for many years.
Director Adam Shankman should stick to musicals like Hairspray. That format enables him to take the action over the top without looking stupid.
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor. Time 105 minutes.