By Roger Moore
Tales come true in this Disney kid flick.
Box-office commodity Adam Sandler is repositioned as kid-friendly in “Bedtime Stories,” a Disney movie that plays better on a balance sheet than a screen. Sandler brought his repertory company (Rob Schneider) to Disney for this holiday disappointment about a wacky uncle whose fantastical bedtime stories come true.
First, there’s a prologue about a hotelier dad (Jonathan Pryce) who told his kids great “Once upon a times” in the days before he sold out to a hotel chain.
Today, Skeeter (Sandler) is handyman at L.A.’s Sunny Vista Nottingham, longing for the day when the owner’s promise to his late father — that he’d get to manage the place — comes true. But slithery Kendall (Guy Pearce, over the top) has angled an engagement with the owner’s Paris Hiltonish daughter to land that job.
Meanwhile, Skeeter’s sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) is a newly divorced, newly laid-off school principal who needs him to watch her kids for a week. He’ll do nights. Wendy’s pal Jill (Keri Russell) will watch them during the day. Jill is just like Wendy — a martinet who is all about health foods and no TV.
What’s an Uncle Buck, er, Skeeter to do? Why, tell bedtime tales about knights and cowboys and charioteers and galactic warriors, none of whom get the respect (or promotion) they deserve. Funny thing about the stories. When the kids pitch in and “improve” them, they come true. Skeeter competes for the promotion and a kiss from “the fairest in all the land.” Oh, and gumballs rain from the sky. Skeeter tries to manipulate the stories.
“Hairspray” hero Adam Shankman takes a GIGANTIC step backward with this. He must have seen something in the fanciful flashbacks where Skeeter and friends (Russell Brand of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a bland waiter pal) and enemies (Pearce) show up as sidekicks, villainous knights or unworthy sycophants to the Emperor. Special effects, stuntmen and editing don’t quite hide that Sandler isn’t doing this shtick.
The big kiddie laugh here is a bug-eyed (digitally assisted) hamster that pops into the picture any time the script-by-committee runs out of ideas. Yup, we see a lot of “Bugsy.” Sandler’s blank-faced mugging takes the form of not-that-funny silly voices. Again, the script isn’t helping.
The comic changing of the guard that’s been evident in recent years makes this a smart career move for Sandler. Wacky PG-13 character comedies are out. R-rated “realistic” comedies are in.