Adam Sandler in a Disney movie… what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, as it happens. Well, nothing major. Adam Shankman [Hairspray] directs Bedtime Stories and – except for the usual Rob Schneider cameo [which sucks the life out of the film for a few moments] – gets a solid performance out of Sandler as handyman Skeeter Bronson, who works in a towering hotel that sits on property where his father [Jonathan Pryce, who also narrates] once had a charming little hotel. The terms of the sale to future hotel magnate Barry Nottingham [Richard Griffiths] included a verbal promise that Skeeter would one day run the new hotel [and verbal promises are worth the paper they’re printed on].
In the kind of sequences of events that exist in a whimsical tale such as this, the hotel is run by an obsequious twit – here called Kendall [Guy Pearce] and his simpering second in command, Aspen [Lucy Lawless] – and the hotelier’s plans for an even bigger hotel are situated on a piece of land upon which sits a school. That school is where Skeeter’s eco-warrior sister, Wendy [Courteney Cox] is vice-principal – not to mention the school attended by his niece and nephew – and where a pretty teacher named Jill [Keri Russell] works. Because of the plans for the hotel, Wendy has to look for work out of state and asks Skeeter to help Jill look after the kids.
When Kendall’s plans for a unique approach for the new hotel turn out to be in use elsewhere, Nottingham gives Skeeter a shot at running the new hotel. All he has to do is come up with a better theme than Kendall. Meanwhile, Skeeter’s bedtime stories for Patrick [Jonathan Morgan Heit] and Bobbi [Laura Ann Kesling] start coming true – though it takes him a while to figure out that it’s the kids’ improvised additions to his stories that are coming to pass.
So, can Skeeter be a good uncle, beat Kendall, and win the fair maid [Jill, of course]? And can he do it without relying overmuch on Sandler’s usual brand of humor. Almost. The humor is kinder, gentler and G-Rated, but the genuine whimsy of the fantasy is, for the most part, winning and well done. Sandler gets to use some of the chops first unearthed by Paul Thomas Anderson in Punch Drunk Love, and the rest of the cast seems to be having a pretty good time.
The effects vary in effectiveness, but by having one story element come true through what looks like a real life coincidence, Shankman gives the more far-fetched bits more punch – and makes Skeeter more relatable. The pacing occasionally falters [and grinds to a sudden halt during Schneider’s two scenes], but overall, Bedtime Stories is a fun diversion that will be enjoyed in theater and mostly forgotten by the time you get to your car.
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Final Grade: B-