Box-office commodity Adam Sandler is repositioned as kid-friendly in Bedtime Stories, a Disney movie that plays better on a balance sheet than a screen. Sandler brought his repertory company (Rob Schneider) to Disney for this holiday disappointment about a wacky uncle whose fantastical bedtime stories come true.
First, there's a prologue about a hotelier dad (Jonathan Pryce) who told his kids great "Once upon a times" in the days before he sold out to a chain.
Today, Skeeter (Sandler) is a handyman at L.A.'s Sunny Vista Nottingham, longing for the owner to make good on a promise that Skeeter would get to manage the place. But slithery Kendall (Guy Pearce, over the top) has angled an engagement with the owner's Paris Hiltonish daughter to land that job.
Meanwhile, Skeeter's sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) is a newly divorced, newly laid-off school principal who needs him to watch her kids for a week. He'll do nights. Wendy's pal Jill (Keri Russell) will watch them during the day. Jill is just like Wendy — a martinet who is all about health foods and no TV.
What's an Uncle Buck, er, Skeeter to do? Why, tell bedtime tales about knights and cowboys and charioteers and galactic warriors, none of whom get the respect (or promotion) they deserve. Funny thing about the stories. When the kids pitch in and "improve" them, they come true. Skeeter competes for the promotion and a kiss from "the fairest in all the land." Oh, and gumballs rain from the sky. Skeet er tries to manipulate the stories.
Hairspray hero Adam Shankman takes a gigantic step backward with this. He must have seen something in the fanciful flashbacks where Skeeter and friends (Russell Brand of e_SDHpForgetting Sarah Marshall is a bland waiter pal) and enemies (Pearce) show up as sidekicks, villainous knights or unworthy sycophants to the emperor. Special effects, stuntmen and editing don't quite hide that Sandler isn't doing this shtick.
The big kiddie laugh here is a digitally assisted bug-eyed hamster that pops into the picture any time the script-by-committee runs out of ideas. Yup, we see a lot of "Bugsy." Sandler's blank-faced mugging is paired with not-that-funny silly voices. Again, the script isn't helping.
The comic changing of the guard that's been evident in recent years makes this a smart career move for Sandler. Wacky PG-13 character comedies are out. R-rated "realistic" comedies are in. Disney has been hunting around for the "new Tim Allen" for a while. Let's see — no success in serious films, an inexpressive face, a gift for making weird voices? Maybe they've found him. The accountants must be thrilled.