Adam Sandler’s screen image has always relied on three factors. He can be very sweet; there’s just no other word for it. Then he has a raging temper that urges him to beat up Bob Barker on golf courses. Finally there’s the penchant for totally lowbrow, rude and crude toilet humor that would embarrass a toilet. Paul Thomas Anderson used the first two to brilliant effect in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and now Adam Shankman’s PG-rated Bedtime Stories eliminates the second two altogether, going just with the sweet schlub factor. It’s by no means as terrific as Anderson’s film, but it’s pleasant and won’t ruffle the nerves of any stressed-out parents. (It’s hoping to be this year’s Night at the Museum.)
Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a maintenance man at a big hotel. The hotel was once a lot smaller and once belonged to Skeeter’s father (Jonathan Pryce), and it was once promised that Skeeter would have a good job there when he grew up. Now, Skeeter’s sister (Cox) asks him to babysit her son and daughter for a week, and he begins telling them bedtime stories, tales of knights and cowboys and other things, loosely based on his own pathetic life. When the children begin adding in their own details, these details (such as a rain of gumballs) come true. So Skeeter begins trying to manipulate the tales to his own advantage. Russell co-stars as the obligatory love interest.
Director Shankman (who, in the press notes, is questionably referred to as a “master of comedy”) barely keeps these things afloat with his scrubbed, clunky direction, but the film moves quickly, and has a good feel for an array of actors; Pearce is Skeeter’s snooty competition for a promotion, Richard Griffiths is the germ-phobic hotelier, and Teresa Palmer is the hotelier’s blond, partying daughter (whom does she remind me of?). And Lucy Lawless has a surprising role as a snippy desk-harpy who hates Skeeter. But Sandler is the reason to see this; he doesn’t exactly bond with the kids, but he plays nicely with them, and his effortless rapport makes Bedtime Stories go down easy.