Friday 5 June 2009

Bedtime Stories (2008)

Friday 5 June 2009
Are you sitting uncomfortably..?

For a movie about the power of imagination and the art of storytelling, Bedtime Stories is ironically tedious, unimaginative, clich├ęd, without charm and devoid of decent narrative. It's another mechanical product from Adam Shankman (director of brainless crud Cheaper By The Dozen and The Pacifier, who here flushes away any respect he gained with Hairspray.) It stars the bewilderingly popular Adam Sandler as another of his identikit man-child dweebs, who (not unlike his other movie Click) finds he's blessed with a reality-changing superpower...

To elaborate further, if I must; Skeeter Bronson (Sandler) is a handyman whose dad (Jonathan Pryce) once owned the hotel where he works, until threat of bankruptcy forced him to sell it to portly English entrepreneur Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), who duly transformed the Bronson's family-run business into a branch of his utilitarian, corporate chain.

Skeeter hopes that some day Mr. Nottingham will remember a promise he made his father to let him become manager, but in the meantime he's distracted by his sister Wendy (Courteney Cox) leaving town to look for work and entrusting her kids to him -- oh, and day-shift babysitter Jill (Keri Russell). Implausibly ignorant of his niece and nephew's life (he doesn't even know which is which!) and nonplussed by the fact they don't eat burgers or watch television, Skeeter starts to tell them stories at bedtime. It's here he realizes that the events of his improvised tales begin to resonate in real life the following day. Say, maybe he can use this power to impress his boss into letting him takeover management?

This movie is a lazy, unfunny repetition of a deadening formula: Skeeter vents his life's frustrations with an allegorical bedtime story (imagining himself triumphing over his enemies in the guise of a harried knight, a heroic cowboy, a daredevil gladiator, a space-adventurer, etc.) and the next day's reality duly echoes his fantasy in a realistic context. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. It sounds entertaining in theory, but each "story" is just a brief, stilted sketch with no laughs, and the way things feed into reality is rather tedious.

Elsewhere, we get fluffy nonsense with Skeeter trying to woo Nottingham's daughter Violet (Teresa Palmer), before inevitably realizing he's in love with babysitter Jill. Who didn't see that twist coming? It's so obvious that it's quite a surprise when Skeeter's light bulb moment occurs. Throughout it all, we endure a rote best-friend act between Skeeter and waiter Mickey (terrible, pointless Russell Brand1), watch our hero idiot hero lock horns with rival wannabe hotelier Kendall (an embarrassing Guy Pearce, surfacing for some mainstream moolah), and hear the gears clunk when the story turns into a mission to stop the demolition of a school to make way for Nottingham's super-hotel.

It's empty, banal, crass, worthless, humourless claptrap. A film that wheels in "dwarves" to giggle at how silly they look dressed as goblins or pintsized cowboys, and never capitalizes on the glint of potential in its high-concept premise. Imagine if Shankman and Sandler had been attached to Groundhog Day, then thank God that Ramis and Murray got there first! The rules of the bedtime storytelling are never tested, they lack internal logic, and everything's suffocated by a schmaltzy narration by dead daddy Jonathan Pryce. Incidentally, we're asked to believe prissy Englishman Pryce fathered Sandler and Cox -- a ridiculous notion, but comparatively sane considering we're also asked to believe Richard Griffiths' loins gave us Teresa Palmer.

But it's all harmless, vibrant fun not be taken too seriously, right? Please, don't give me that. That's the kind of apathetic thinking that ensures Hollywood continue to conveyor-belt depressing CGI-filled comedies into multiplexes with talent-vacuum's like Adam Sandler headlining. Children deserve better than creative vomit like Bedtime Stories (a film that features unrepentant brownnoser Rob Schneider, again cast as a stereotyped ethnic by buddy Sandler.) So, please, if you have kids, don't show them this shit. Just trust in a message the film spectacularly fails to put across despite its subject: turn the television off and read them a story.

directed by: Adam Shankman written by: Matt Lopez & Tim Herlihy starring: Adam Sandler (Skeeter Bronson), Keri Russell (Jill), Guy Pearce (Kendall), Russell Brand (Mickey), Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), Teresa Palmer (Violet Nottingham), Lucy Lawless (Aspen), Courteney Cox (Wendy Bronson), Jonathan Morgan Heit (Patrick), Laura Ann Kesling (Bobbi), Jonathan Pryce (Marty Bronson), Nick Swardson (Engineer), Allen Covert (Ferrari Guy), Kathryn Joosten (Mrs Dixon), Mikey Post (Angry Dwarf), Rob Schneider (Indian Chief/The Robber), Thomas Hoffman (Young Skeeter) & Abigail Droeger (Young Wendy) Walt Disney Pictures/Happy Madison/Gunn Films - 99 mins.- $80 million (budget)

1. Seriously, why is Brand in this? You could erase his character completely and the film wouldn't suffer. It feels like his character was inserted to capitalize on his Forgetting Sarah Marshall success. If Brand's serious about having prolonged success in America, he needs to take a leaf out of Ricky Gervais' book and start getting choosey about which projects he associates with. Disney-level family comedy is not his forte, and part of me suspects he took the gig to get his end away with Ms. Palmer. Coming up for the gangly comedian: remakes of Drop Dead Fred and Arthur. Start packing your bags, Mr. Brand...