When the door closes on 2008, director Adam Shankman can pat himself on the back for his work on…”Prop 8: The Musical,” the hilarious mini-play he staged with composer Marc Shaiman and a cast of Hollywood’s finest. “Bedtime Stories,” on the other hand, is a big step backward from “Enchanted,” Disney’s live-action breakthrough from last year. Both movies share a certain fractured-fairy tale sensibility, but the similarities end there. Where “Enchanted” is self-aware, “Bedtime Stories” is self-absorbed.
Adam Sandler is Skeeter Bronson, a repairman for the hotel that was built on the lot that once sported a hotel that was run – into the ground, in fact – by his father. When his sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) is laid off from her job after the school she runs is being shut down, Skeeter is recruited to watch over his estranged niece Bobbi (Laura Ann Kelsing) and nephew Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) while Wendy leaves town in search of a job. Skeeter, of course, has no experience with kids, but he proves to be a wizard at spinning offbeat bedtime stories. The next day, several parts of his bedtime story from the night before actually happen, and Skeeter eventually realizes that only Bobbi and Patrick’s contributions to the stories are coming true, so he tries to manipulate the kids into improving both his career and his love life, with “hilarious” and disastrous results.
There is a movie to be had here, no question; the concept is cute enough and full of possibilities, the child actors are adorable, and Keri Russell (she plays Wendy’s friend Jill), well, she just oozes cuteness. Sandler, however, is a big problem. Skeeter is supposed to be a good guy under bad circumstances, but Sandler adds a layer of sleaze to go with the corruption, making him unlikeable even when he’s supposed to be at his most likeable. The movie’s villains – both played by an Aussie and a Kiwi pretending to be Americans, strangely enough (Guy Pearce and Lucy Lawless) – are of the sneering, blue-blood variety. How quaint.
It all comes down to execution. The actors bat around .500 (Russell Brand does get some big laughs as Skeeter’s hotel buddy Mickey), and the way the script labors to produce conflict between Skeeter and the others is just painful. The script does, however, manage to find room for Sandler’s posse (Rob Schneider, Nick Swardson, Allen Covert) and the inclusion of two fart jokes, in case you were wondering where their priorities were. There is a scene towards the end where Skeeter and Jill are racing against the clock, and their willful disregard for public property (knocking down billboards, smashing cars) is just galling. Not a good example for a Disney movie to set.
“Bedtime Stories” has all of the trademarks (and trappings) of a Disney movie, but it doesn’t have any respect for Disney’s legacy. It’s like a skit from a comedy improv troupe stretched into a full-length movie, but the writers forgot to take out the snark that inspired the skit in the first place. If you must show your kids a Disney movie this holiday season, buy them “WALL-E.”(2.5 / 5)