Sandler's 'Bedtime Stories' comes off feeling tired

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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Film review

Adam Sandler returns to the familiar man-child of yore with "Bedtime Stories," a desperate family friendly comedy about wild nighttime fantasies that magically come true in broad daylight.

Truly, Sandler seemed to have moved beyond this comfortable adolescent state, past the goofy persona he forged for himself with early movies like "Billy Madison" and "Little Nicky." He's proven he can act, really act, with surprising vulnerability and nuance in "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Spanglish." He seemed to have turned, God forbid, into a grown-up.

Adam Sandler returns to the familiar man-child of yore with "Bedtime Stories," a desperate family friendly comedy about wild nighttime fantasies that magically come true in broad daylight.

Truly, Sandler seemed to have moved beyond this comfortable adolescent state, past the goofy persona he forged for himself with early movies like "Billy Madison" and "Little Nicky." He's proven he can act, really act, with surprising vulnerability and nuance in "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Spanglish." He seemed to have turned, God forbid, into a grown-up.

Even though "Bedtime Stories" represents a first for Sandler - a comedy that's appropriate for all ages - it still feels like a giant leap backward for him. As Skeeter Bronson, the handyman at a boutique Los Angeles hotel, Sandler is doing that same silly, growly voice he uses in his "Hanukkah Song."

Forced to look after his young niece Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and nephew Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) for a week while his sister (Courteney Cox) is out of town lining up a new job, Skeeter finds the only way to connect with the kids, and get them to go to sleep, is by telling them bedtime stories.

Soon, Bobbi and Patrick are chiming in with their own ideas about what the tales should include - gum balls falling from the sky, violent midgets, gooey booger monsters - and in no time, those details start creeping into Skeeter's life. And those surreal occurrences inspire Skeeter as he racks his brain for a design concept for the new hotel his boss is launching.

It's a whimsical and not-too-shabby idea from writers Matt Lopez and longtime Sandler friend and collaborator Tim Herlihy. But under the direction of Adam Shankman ("Hairspray"), the result is too often flat, crass and disjointed. Even though Shankman has plenty of elaborate themes to play with - Skeeter stars as the hero of a Western, a "Star Wars" takeoff and a gladiator adventure, for example - he keeps cutting away ad nauseam to the kids' freakishly wide-eyed guinea pig, which isn't even vaguely funny the first time. And in keeping with the raunchiness that traditionally infuses Sandler's comedies, there are also various sight gags involving flatulent or slimy animals.

Harmless, sure - but also needless.

Russell Brand gets the few seriously funny lines in the script as the hotel's room service waiter, though his brash comic tendencies - the ones that made him a scene-stealer earlier this year in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" - are, of course, suppressed here. Richard Griffiths and Guy Pearce are slumming as the hotel's pompous owner and the suck-up who wants to take over his empire, respectively. And the always lovely Keri Russell goes woefully to waste in the straight-woman role as the kids' babysitter and Skeeter's would-be love interest.

That last part might be the wildest fantasy of all.

1 1/2 stars out of four

Organizations: Los Angeles hotel

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