The popularity of Adam Sandler has long mystified me. Then again, so many fellow fuddy duddy critics have already pointed out the nastiness and hostility of his characters in Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy, or the aggressively one-joke nature of the hero of The Waterboy that adding my own weary voice of disapproval seems pointlessly redundant.
Thankfully, for once I don't have to. Bedtime Stories is Sandler's first production with Walt Disney Studios, and by toning down the harsher elements of his persona for a family audience he gives one of his most appealing performances.
The plot is a gimmicky high-concept. Skeeter (Adam Sandler) is the good-natured handyman who works at the luxurious hotel his father founded. Now owned by a Howard Hughes-like millionaire (Richard Griffiths), Skeeter is disappointed to learn that it will be demolished and moved to a new location, and even more disappointed when the job of manager is given to a smarmy corporate ladder-climber (Guy Pearce). While babysitting his sister's kids, he realizes that whatever they contribute to his bedtime stories comes true in real life. The film drifts back and forth between reality and dream sequences, some of which are structurally and visually inventive.
Would it be a backhanded compliment to call Bedtime Stories that best Adam Sandler comedy I've seen (aside from Punch-Drunk Love)? I suppose so, but for all its crude humour and thinly drawn supporting characters this is more cheerful and good-hearted than any of Sandler's generally mean-spirited comedies.
Sandler does a good job making his character into a likeable schlub and his gradual elevation of Skeeter's wish-fulfilment desperation is funny and nicely timed. The supporting cast (which also includes Russell Brand, Courtney Cox, Jonathan Pryce and Lucy Lawless) is uniformly strong and the direction by Adam Shankman (Hairspray) is lively and colourful.
If a long-time Sandler-hater enjoyed this uneven but likeable family comedy it should be a sure thing for its pre-teen target audience. Hell, I actually laughed during Rob Schneider's cameo. What's wrong with me? (Nonine)