There may once have been a charming idea at the heart of BEDTIME STORIES, but alas, whatever it might have been has been Sandler-ized. And not for your protection. The tale of Skeeter (Adam Sandler), an underappreciated hotel maintenance man given a chance to succeed where his father failed in the hospitality industry is singularly inert and accentuated with bad special effects, unimaginative costuming that looks to have been fashioned from tissue paper and tin foil, and an overall feeling of a cartoon produced as cheaply as possible.
When his estranged sister goes job hunting out of state because the school where she is principal is about to be demolished, Skeeter is cornered into babysitting his pre-teen niece and nephew. Virtual strangers and raised on a vegan diet of wheat-grass cake and wheat germ, Skeeter discovers that the best way to relate to them is by making up bedtime stories for them the way his father (Johnathan Pryce) did for him. That and slipping them some burgers and chocolate chip cookies.
There is something odd about those bed time stories, though. Even odder than Bugsy, the bug-eyed guinea pig that the kids keep as a pet. While Skeeter injects his own disillusionment into them creating endings replete with suicide and unsavory skin conditions, the kids keep adding touches that make for happy endings, bits and pieces of which, no matter how bizarre or fanciful, start coming true. So while only the Skeeter of the stories may race chariots in ancient Greece, defeat bad guys in the old west, or do battle in zero-gravity in outer space, both Skeeters, real and imaginary, enjoy an unexpected rain of gumballs, a gaggle of girls who used to pick on him and have now seen the error of their ways, and a large hairy man on a beach in need of assistance that only Skeeter can render.
He doesn’t however, get the cherry-red Ferrari of his dreams, but he does get a chance to run the newest hotel in the Nottingham chain, whose megawealthy owner, Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), bought out Skeeter’s dad way back when. All he has to do is come up with a theme that will be better than the one proposed by Kendall (Guy Pearce), the current hotel’s manager and betrothed of the sole heir to the Nottingham hotel empire, party girl Violet (Teresa Palmer), who is supposed to remind us of Paris Hilton, but is somehow not quite as vacuous, not that she doesn’t try..
The odd coinciding of fantasy and reality have a few inventive juxtapositions. Skeeter saves Violet from bandits in the western story, and later saves her from paparazzi gone wild on the Sunset Strip. Mostly, though, it’s a chance for Sandler to mug his way through rice-cake sandwiches, booger monsters, and inept direction from Adam Shankman. There is no sense of wonder, no reason for Jill (Kerri Washington), a teacher at the kids’ school who shares the babysitting chores with Skeeter, to get past the initial distaste for him and his bad hair, and every reason for her and audience to stay away from him. When Sandler isn’t confusing snarkiness with warmth, it’s only to let Pearce overact as the supercilious yes-man of the piece, or to let another attempt to make Bugsy funny fall flat. It’s not that there aren’t comic possibilities in the rodent kingdom in general, nor in guinea pig species in particular, but this one isn’t adorable. It has fixed and staring eyes three times too big for its head, weird eyes that resemble nothing so much as those found in ancient idols of savage and vindictive deities out to wreak havoc. It’s a hard sell. Making him flatulent and putting him on a teeny, tiny treadmill doesn’t help. The fact that he seems to be just a little smarter than Skeeter is just creepy.
The best of a bad thing is Russell Brand as Mickey, Skeeter’s best pal who is the room service waiter at the hotel. Brand is so intensely unfocused that the contradiction, especially in the context of a film that is anything but, is an endless source of engrossing whimsy of the most cognitive dissonant variety.
BEDTIME STORIES isn’t a nightmare, would that it were that lively. Instead it’s a film designed with the poster in mind. A poster that is more fun, more creative, and more engrossing than anything in the film it promotes.