I wish I could’ve worked up the same enthusiasm for Adam Shankman’s Bedtime Stories that the 8-year-old boy sitting by himself a few seats down from me had. Not only was he wound up enough to give a running commentary throughout the film—often punctuated with cackling laughter and proclamations of “She’s hot!” whenever supporting actress Teresa Palmer (The Grudge 2) would make her way on-screen—but at one point I’m fairly certain he was literally rolling around in his own seat. One can only assume that the aisle was simply too far away for the sake of convenience.
In many ways, I still wish I could develop that kind of fervor and excitement that accompanied my treks to the movies as a kid. In those days, it wasn’t the movie that mattered, but the simple fact that I was at the movies. While watching Bedtime Stories, my mind wandered back to those keener, more whimsical times, only to be yanked back into reality once I remembered that I was sitting through a damned Adam Sandler movie. The simple idea behind the film—if I may be allowed to indulge in hyperbole for just a moment—lies somewhere in between thumbscrews and waterboarding in its ability to break a man’s spirit.
Don’t be mistaken, Bedtime Stories is an Adam Sandler flick in every sense of the word. Sure, for Sandler, Adam Shankman might seem on the surface to be a higher quality director than usual—especially after the critical and box-office success of Hairspray (2007)—but keep in mind, this is the same guy who made Cheaper By the Dozen 2 (2005) and The Pacifier (2005). The man’s in full-on paycheck mode here, fully evidenced when Shankman—whose career began as a choreographer—puts on a 30-second musical number (one can only assume it’s contractual) that includes nothing other than more flailing arms than the denizens of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla.
There’s some on-screen talent around: Guy Pearce, Richard Griffiths and Jonathan Pryce (so underused that his presence is pointless). But all of this is for naught, since the usual Sandler hangers-on, like Nick Swardson, pop up here and there, but with the added bonus of a bug-eyed, occasionally flatulent CGI guinea pig thrown in for added hilarity. My working theory is that the latter was included to help Rob Schneider somehow appear more human (in this movie, Schneider is dressed as a Native American in a rubber Nicole-Kidman-as-Virginia-Woolf nose, which I’m pretty sure is illegal somehow).
The story itself is even worse. If a million monkeys with a million typewriters could eventually bang out the complete works of Shakespeare, then it’s only fitting that writers Matt Lopez (Disney’s The Wild) and Tim Herlihy (who’s written seven other Sandler flicks) and a laptop could create Bedtime Stories. There’s a generic love story, some precocious kids and a school set for demolition due to evil businessmen. All of this is accented by the fanciful and far-fetched bedtime stories Sandler’s character, a handyman named Skeeter, is telling his niece and nephew (Laura Ann Kesling and Jonathan Morgan Heit). The stories inexplicably become a reality in Skeeter’s day-to-day life, an idea he tries to exploit for his own personal gain, which, of course, backfires. None of it mixes well, and instead comes across as an excuse for high-concept holiday fare and to give Walt Disney Studios a reason to spend millions of dollars on CGI “booger monsters.”
It’s a movie with little effort or care behind it, and an obvious lazy attempt to make a quick buck off families during the holidays, but with the comic stylings of Adam Sandler thrown in. While the youngster down the aisle didn’t seem to mind this, everyone else might want to be a bit wary. Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mild language.