Adam Sandler became a comic star by mining arrested development for laughs. He found variations to his attack: there is the infantile Sandler of Billy Madison, and the sweet, innocent Sandler of The Wedding Singer. However, Bedtime Stories marks the first time he's tried to make a child-friendly movie. The tale begins with Skeeter Bronson, a young boy, helping his father (Jonathan Pryce) run a modest L.A. motel, until the father sells the failing enterprise to British businessman Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), with the understanding that Skeeter will be allowed to run the business when he becomes an adult. Thirty years later, the motel has turned into a luxury hotel, and a grown-up Skeeter (Sandler) works there as a handyman because Mr. Nottingham failed to keep the promise made to Skeeter's dad. One day, after Skeeter misses out on another promotion, his sister (Courteney Cox) asks him to watch her son and daughter for a week while she goes on a trip. During the first night the three of them are together, he tells the kids a bedtime story about a peasant boy trying to impress his king -- a story that allows Skeeter to fantasize about winning his dream job. Unexpectedly, some parts of the story come true the next day -- namely, his boss changes his mind, offering Skeeter the chance to earn that promotion after all. Oh, and it rains gumballs. Flush with his first taste of success, Skeeter believes his stories are coming true, and thus he spins a different yarn every night, making sure to include moments where the hero gets a new car or wins the affections of a beautiful lady. However, his plans go comically awry until he figures out that the kids have more to do with his good fortune than he first realized.
Bedtime Stories is an odd cross-breed of toned-down Sandler schtick and standard Disney wish-fulfillment fantasy. Sandler is a savvy performer, and he shades his comedic persona to grab the younger demographic he's shooting for -- there are no temper tantrums or violent outbursts, and he does have the scruffy charm of a favorite uncle. Sadly, the filmmaking isn't as thought-out as the lead performance. Director Adam Shankman never makes the fantasy sequences -- full of chivalrous knights, honorable cowboys, and slimy space monsters -- feel magical. These scenes do a fine job of keeping the movie visually fresh -- there's always something new to look at -- but they aren't as memorable as the scenes set in everyday life. If the filmmakers injected the fantastical parts of the story with some genuine childlike whimsy, they'd have cooked up a funky, warm-hearted kids movie. But instead, they make the moments of childlike creativity adhere slavishly to the strictures of the Disney formula, and that takes away any element of surprise, let alone wonder. And, seeing as a sense of wonder is crucial to any good bedtime story, the movie never becomes special. It's not that Bedtime Stories is bad, it's just entirely and thoroughly adequate.