It sounds like a can't-miss concept: a Disney movie about a guy who tells wonderful, fantastic bedtime stories that actually come true in real life. And when the guy is Adam Sandler, how can this possibly be a bad movie? Aren't you buying tickets online for your entire family right now, even as you read about this possible cinematic land of delights? Except that watching Bedtime Stories is about as delightful as peeking into your Christmas stocking and finding it empty except for a few lint-covered peppermints.
The movie opens with a little tale narrated by the most stereotypically folksy voice you can imagine, a distillation of Wilford Brimley and Roy Rogers ... and it's Jonathan Pryce, setting up the story of Sandler's character Skeeter. Seeing Pryce at this time of year made me think of Brazil, thus triggering nostalgia for a movie that is the diametric opposite of this one. Pryce's character, Marty, has to sell the hotel to a Brit who gets to keep his accent, Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), who promises that someday Marty's little boy Skeeter can earn the chance to run the hotel himself. (Marty's daughter is SOL, one presumes.) Barry agrees, then replaces most of the homey motel with a snazzy high-rise hotel.
Cut to the present day, when Skeeter is the hotel's handyman (Adam Sandler), who is kind to older guests and animals, and battles daily with oily, unctuous hotel manager Kendall (Guy Pearce) and a nasty desk clerk (Lucy Lawless). And in the same week that Barry Nottingham announces a new, still ritzier hotel, Skeeter has to babysit his niece and nephew while his sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) goes job-hunting in Arizona. With help from his best friend Mickey (Russell Brand) and his sister's seemingly humorless but cute friend Jill (Keri Russell), Sandler amuses the children by telling them bedtime stories, just like his dad used to tell him. Except this time, elements from the bedtime stories appear to be coming true in Skeeter's own life. Gumballs fall from the sky, and Skeeter may get a chance to manage the new hotel himself.
This movie unites Guy Pearce, Lucy Lawless, Richard Griffiths, Keri Russell and Jonathan Pryce together in one movie, not to mention Adam Sandler, Courteney Cox, and Russell Brand -- just watching these actors should be entertaining all by itself, no matter what they're doing. And yet Bedtime Stories puts them in roles so slim and dull that it saps the life from them, so Griffiths feels like a pale imitation of Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park, Lawless is reduced to little more than a snarl, and Keri Russell just has to look pretty, even when she's annoyed with Sandler's character.
Not only are the characters weak, but the storyline is flimsy and makes no sense. We never find out what's causing the bedtime stories to have this magical impact on Skeeter -- it might be the kids' blatantly CGI-rendered guinea pig, but then why hasn't this happened before, and will it keep happening after the movie ends? And the bedtime stories themselves are blah, even when the kids pipe up with weird elements like raining gumballs or mysterious dwarfs. We see the stories acted out in gorgeous fantasy sequences -- Keri Russell makes a fetching mermaid -- but hardly anything actually happens.
Near the end of Bedtime Stories, a scene occurs in which, without warning, Kendall bursts into song. He sings a brief show-tune-like jingle and even dances a bit while Lucy Lawless's character, dressed in a skimpy Hawaiian outfit, accompanies him on the piano. It's brilliant and energetic and goofily charming, although the film obviously would like us to be thinking is that it's dorky for this guy to be singing show tunes at this moment in the film. The characters react in that way, and suddenly this shining moment ends, and the film descends into an inane scene with Brand and Sandler.
I was terribly disappointed. Why not make all of Bedtime Stories into a musical? Imagine the possibilities! You don't need much of a storyline to sustain a musical, and the film's shortcomings would have been disguised by fabulous dance numbers during the fantasy bedtime-story sequences. Sandler wouldn't have to dance -- everyone could dance around him, like Lina Lamont -- it could have been brilliant. And probably expensive.
Instead we get this dull and dismal movie that offers little for anyone over the age of six, that even diehard Adam Sandler fans are going to find lacking, that assumes children will settle for second-rate writing and third-rate gags and the antics of a fake guinea pig. If you can sit through lines like "Well, miracles can happen, you know?" and worse yet, "I'm like the stink on your feet, I'll always be there," go ahead and give Bedtime Stories a shot. But I think you'd be better off taking your kids home and reading them actual bedtime stories, or telling some of your own, which would all be an improvement over this film.