After dozens of movies, Adam Sandler remains hard to figure out. Most of Sandler's films slavishly follow the mold of most film comedies of the last decade or so: a somewhat funny male star (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler) is dropped into an unfunny premise with a lot of gross-out scenes and poop jokes to make up for the lack of laughs.
But the other part of Sandler's "oeuvre" consists of movies like Spanglish and Punch-Drunk Love -- odd hybrids of broad humor and quirk -- and toned-down, frothy mainstream comedies like Click and Bedtime Stories. It would be unfair to accuse Sandler of selling out his artistic vision in these films -- not only because Little Nicky wasn't art, but because the non-manic goofiness of Bedtime Stories may be closer to the real Sandler. And with some script consulting help, someday the real Sandler might make a really good film. Bedtime Stories isn't it, but at least it's mostly aimed in the right direction. Article continues below
Sandler is underachiever Skeeter Bronson, who grew up in a retro LA motel owned by his late father, an unsuccessful dreamer who sold out to hotel magnate Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths). Skeeter hangs around as handyman, but his life is shaken up when his sister, uptight supermom Wendy (Courteney Cox, an obvious casting move), loses her job as a school principal when her school is closed to make way for (amazing coincidence) said magnate's new hotel. Wendy asks Skeeter and her crunchy-granola friend Jill (Keri Russell) to babysit her two children for a week so she can look for a new job.
Like every nanny since Mary Poppins, Sandler wins over the suspicious, but adorable, children with his bedtime stories. At first, the stories seem like silly digressions in which Skeeter imagines himself a medieval knight, western hero, etc. (brought to life with extravagant special effects) but soon he notices that episodes in the stories start coming true in his life. As the week progresses, Skeeter's life becomes a chance at a real fairy tale as he gets a second chance to wrest the hotel from Nottingham and his sycophantic minion (Guy Pearce).
The disparate cast of Bedtime Stories embrace the silliness willingly, probably hoping the similar magic ride enjoyed at the box office by Disney's last froth, Enchanted, will happen again. Griffiths has fun with the stock rich-eccentric role (the character is even a germaphobe, one of many unoriginal ideas rehashed in Bedtime). And Russell plays her role to perfection, suggesting that A-list status for her is coming.
To say Bedtime Stories is uneven is the same as saying that it's an Adam Sandler movie. But it's not bad, and with a few changes it could have been a lot better. The filmmakers are obviously trying to make a sweet, uplifting movie, so there are only a couple of fart jokes, but why do there have to be any? (Unless Disney goes the way of Bear Stearns, apparently kids' movies are always going to have fart jokes.) And some of the one-liners making fun of Wendy's environmental purism are funny, but Hollywood's frequent green-bashing is getting old, and seems increasingly out of touch. (Apparently Prius drivers are the only people in America it's OK to make fun of, except for germaphobes.) But Bedtime Stories is mostly tolerable and occasionally even funny, which counts for a lot these days.
The happy ending is even sillier and more unrealistic than it ought to be, especially coming after an earlier false ending which is realistic and plausible. That, coupled with the fact that there is not a lot of good news in the country right now, makes Bedtime Stories seem even more trivial. But Sandler's innocence about what goes on in the real world is sort of charming, and so is his willingness to make mainstream comedies that are slightly offbeat. Hopefully he'll make a complete movie one day -- as well-meaning and well-acted as Bedtime Stories, but with the verisimilitude to make Sandler's fairy tales seem like they really could come true.