Whether he's starring in films geared primarily toward children, or those for teens and adults (like this summer's You Don't Mess with the Zohan), Adam Sandler is continually exploring the nuances of his stock man-child character. In the kid-oriented Bedtime Stories, Skeeter Bronson is an overlooked good guy a la The Wedding Singer (1998), albeit one who never outgrew his childish impulses, much to the chagrin of his tightly wound sister, Wendy (Courtney Cox).
The principal of an elementary school scheduled for closure, Wendy heads out of state for job interviews, leaving her two kids in the care of one responsible adult — her teacher friend Jill (Keri Russell) — as well as her brother. The strictly raised, well-behaved Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) and Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) seem alien to Skeeter, but in the Disney movie tradition of wise children educating immature, self-centered adults, they'll make him a better man.
This is the grounded family dynamic part of Bedtime Stories, and the fantasy aspect is twofold. The first involves the elaborate scenarios concocted by Skeeter — and visualized with seamless special effects by director Adam Shankman — in the kind of participatory, imagination-expanding storytelling he learned from his verbose father (Jonathan Pryce). The second has to do with Skeeter's job at a luxury Los Angeles hotel owned by Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths).
The rotund Howard Hughes-like magnate only sees this ferociously loyal employee as the fix-it guy, promoting the unctuous Kendall (Guy Pearce) instead. So Skeeter treats the hotel like his personal playground, hanging out with dim-bulb waiter Mickey (Russell Brand, as funny as a lapdog as the alpha male in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Skeeter comes to believe that his shot at upward mobility is connected to the increasingly vivid bedtime stories he tells Patrick and Bobbi.
A choreographer turned deft director, Shankman (Hairspray, The Pacifier) does keep all things spinning at once, but is never able to find that sweet spot of A Night at the Museum (2006), where fantasy and action, kid and adult entertainment meet. The stories are too old-school to make much sense to the film's target audience — a gladiator sequence references Spartacus and Evel Knievel — and aren't clever enough to keep their parents engaged.
The hyperactive Bedtime Stories never spins one yarn long enough for it to catch the audience's imagination (as in The Princess Bride), which makes this speedy joy ride feel like it's spinning its wheels.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].