Reel Opinions

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bedtime Stories

This holiday weekend, two heavily hyped family films are duking it out for the dollars of kids and parents. As I stated in my earlier review of Marley & Me, that film is sure to be the favorite of the two with accompanying adults. However, I think when it comes to the kids, they'll like Bedtime Stories more. The movie speaks their language and holds an imaginative premise that's sure to grab their attention. I know if I were 10 years old and had seen both movies, I would have liked Marley for the funny dog, but probably would have preferred the Adam Sandler comedy and found it more fun.

Make no mistake, this is an Adam Sandler comedy. Despite the PG-rating and the fact that it's being released by the Disney studio, the movie has everything we've come to expect in a Sandler film. He once again plays a likable screw up, there's a cameo from Rob Schneider at one point, and there are also a surprising amount of respectable actors you wouldn't expect to see co-starring in one of his movies. The actors this time around include Jonathan Pryce, who plays Sandler's father in the early scenes, but doesn't have a very large role. Much larger roles are given to Richard Griffiths (as the germophobic boss whom Sandler's character works for), and Guy Pearce as the smarmy villain who exists simply to be humiliated. Eight years ago, Guy Pearce was starring in movies like Memento. Now he's playing the foil to Adam Sandler. If he's not having a long talk with his agent about where his career is headed, he should.

But hey, at least Sandler is managing to dip his toe into family comedy without betraying his roots. If only the same could be said of Eddie Murphy. Here, he plays Skeeter Bronson, a guy who works as the handyman at a luxury hotel his father once owned, and doesn't seem to be going anywhere in life. His only hope is that the current owner of the hotel is planning to open a new one, and may give him a chance to run it if Skeeter can impress him at a presentation coming up. Meanwhile, Skeeter's sister (Courteney Cox) has been laid off, and has to go to a job interview out of state. Skeeter is given the task to look after her kids each night. The kids are young Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) and Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling). They take a liking to Skeeter and especially to the elaborate bedtime stories he tells, which are loosely based on his personal experiences, only they are set in medieval times, the old west, ancient Rome, and outer space. To Skeeter's surprise, he finds his real life begins to mirror the stories that he tells the kids. He initially uses this to his own advantage in getting ahead in life, but when he discovers the kids' school is in danger of being torn down, he realizes he has to do what's right.

There's also a romantic triangle subplot here, involving Skeeter trying to choose between his boss' spoiled daughter (Teresa Palmer) or his sister's sweet and responsible best friend, Jill (Keri Russell). No prizes for guessing which one he picks at the end. Bedtime Stories is safe and completely harmless entertainment, and in a way, that's its biggest problem. Director Adam Shankman (2007's Hairspray), along with screenwriters Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy, never let the imagination truly take off. There are some moments of spectacle, and the special effects used to bring the stories to life as Skeeter is telling them are impressive, but spectacle and imagination are two completely different things. If you're going to go through the trouble of giving us a horse that's as red as an apple, have it do something special. Don't just make it a horse that just happens to be red. I'm sure any kid watching this movie could come up with more imaginative ideas for stories than the kids in this movie do.

And yet, in all honesty, the movie charmed me in a lot of ways. Sandler may be relying on the same likable goofball routine he's been doing for over 10 years, but it's effective here. The kids are cute, the romantic subplot is underdeveloped but has its moments, and there are a couple moments I found myself laughing. Most of these laughs come from British comic, Russell Brand, who plays Skeeter's best friend at work. While it could be argued that Brand was put to much better use earlier this year in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he's still fun to watch here. Some of the visual gags are cute (I liked the roaming band of angry midgets), but the film's most repeated sight gag didn't work on me. That gag is Bugsy, a guinea pig that belongs to the kids that has large, computer enhanced eyes that makes it look kind of sad in a pathetic way. Still, the kids at my screening laughed every time the movie cut to a reaction shot from him, and he does supply the film with its required fart humor.

Bedtime Stories is pretty much for the kids, and while I didn't mind it, I'll probably find myself renting Marley & Me on DVD before I ever watch this one again. Take that as you will. The movie is harmless, doesn't offend, and should fit the bill to give families something to watch over Christmas Vacation. I have a feeling that's all they were looking for here. If a sequel should ever come, I'll hope for more imagination, more wonder, and less Bugsy.

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