In recent years, the term “family friendly” has become a catchword for innocuous, slapdash frivolity, a euphemism meant to imply kid-appropriateness that actually functions as an excuse for lazy craftsmanship and crude moralizing. Bedtime Stories does nothing to reverse this trend, as Adam Shankman’s holiday adventure has a big central concept and next to no desire to follow through on reasonably—much less fully—exploiting it. A handyman at a luxury hotel that, in its initial motel incarnation, was owned by his father (Jonathan Pryce), Skeeter Bronson (Adam Sandler) is asked by his grating killjoy sister (Courteney Cox, naturally) to babysit his niece and nephew, a chore to which he first grudgingly agrees and then wholeheartedly embraces once he discovers that the bedtime stories he invents for them each night are coming true. Typical of the entire enterprise’s sloppiness, the reason for these magical circumstances is left fuzzy (it has something to do with Skeeter’s imaginative father and wishing). And that’s also a way to describe the second-rate special effects employed for Skeeter’s respective ancient Rome, Wild West, and sci-fi tales, all of which tidily, and drearily, mirror his real-life efforts to defeat a sycophantic executive (Guy Pearce) for a job as the manager of a forthcoming mega-hotel. Skeeter attempts to use this magic turn of events for personal gain only to find that it’s the kids’ contributions to the stories that become real. The ensuing situation leads to exactly one amusing throwaway Sandler line—in which he implores the tykes to mention Led Zeppelin—but mostly just safe, uninventive scenarios that usually feature the little boy cutely mispronouncing words and reaction shots of a giant-eyed guinea pig named Bugsy who can seemingly understand English and, at film’s conclusion, lets off some s’mores-assisted farts. Shankman’s direction has a lethargic flatness that’s become the de facto visual schema of Sandler comedies, notable names (Keri Russell, Russell Brand, Lucy Lawless) mug for money, and while the star’s typical frat-guy humor is toned down, there are still angry midgets, musical theater-loving villains, and an offensive cameo by Rob Schneider (here as a prosthetic nose-wearing, butt-scratching Native American caricature) to satiate Sandler diehards. If, of course, they can stay awake.
- Adam Shankman
- Matt Lopez, Tim Herlihy
- Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Lucy Lawless, Courteney Cox, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Laura Ann Kesling, Jonathan Pryce
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