[Screen It]

(2008) (Adam Sandler, Keri Russell) (PG)

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Comedy: A hotel handyman discovers that the unusual bedtime stories he tells his young niece and nephew come true the following day, although not quite the way he expects them to.
Skeeter Bronson (ADAM SANDLER) has lived his entire life at the Sunny Vista Hotel, first as a kid with his sister when their dad ran the place, and now for the past 25 years serving as the handyman for owner Barry Nottingham (RICHARD GRIFFITHS). Despite being quite good at his job, the likes of manager Kendall Duncan (GUY PEARCE) and front desk attendant Aspen (LUCY LAWLESS) look down on him, while Nottingham's high society daughter, Violet (TERESA PALMER), doesn't give him much notice. Accordingly, that only adds to his disappointment when Mr. Nottingham announces that Kendall, rather than Skeeter, will be the general manager of their newest, but yet-to-be-built property.

At the same time, Skeeter ends up having to watch his young niece, Bobbi (LAURA ANN KESLING), and nephew, Patrick (JONATHAN MORGAN HEIT), when their divorced school principal mom, Wendy (COURTNEY COX), has to go out of town to look for a new job, what with her school scheduled to be shuttered. Besides somewhat spacey hotel waiter Mickey (RUSSELL BRAND) helping him watch the kids, Skeeter also gets assistance from Wendy's friend, teacher Jill Hastings (KERI RUSSELL). Even so, it's up to Skeeter to tell the kids their bedtime stories, and since he has no experience with that, he comes up with some unorthodox tales, with his young charges throwing in various details.

To his surprise, some of the latter then end up actually happening in real life. And since Mr. Nottingham has changed his mind and will allow Skeeter to compete against Kendall for the new position, the handyman figures he can use those bedtime stories to ensure that he gets the job. Yet, as he starts to fall for Jill, he soon learns that his best laid plans don't always work out the way he, and the kids, have imagined.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Although it's probably next to impossible to study in any sort of accurate fashion, it would be interesting to see how today's kids measure up with those of say, my generation growing up in the 1960s. After all, there were only a handful of TV stations back then, radio dramas had all but disappeared, and the most fanciful things were movies, novels and, of course, comic books. As a result, we might have imitated something that we had seen before, but at least we did so with a flurry of imaginative details when not just making up some sort of game or adventure from scratch.

Nowadays, kids are inundated with technology and media products, with TV channels galore, access to more movies than ever before, and a little cottage I've heard might just survive into the next decade, video games. I jest, of course, as the latter have come to dominate kids' fingers and eyeballs, with most offering nothing for the mind beyond advanced reflexive skills. As a result, I fear that imagination among the younger set is probably beginning to wane.

Thus, a movie that revolves around bedtime stories that come true the following day sounds intriguing and maybe even promising in terms of getting kids to turn off the games and turn on their imagination. Alas, not long into this so-called family-friendly comedy, about the only thing one's going to want to do is turn off this fiasco. And that's because for a film that's supposed to be all about using one's imagination, it's not very imaginative, at least in a good, clever and/or smart way.

Concocted by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy with Adam Shankman behind the wheel, the most obvious sign of pending disaster that I should have heeded more closely was the presence of Adam Sandler in the lead role. After a brief prologue of sorts -- narrated by Jonathan Pryce who was smart enough to do his extended cameo and then get out while the going was still halfway good -- we see that Sandler plays a hotel handyman named Skeeter Bronson whose dad (Pryce) once ran the place but had to sell it.

Now run by a hotel magnate (Richard Griffiths seemingly impersonating Richard Attenborough from "Jurassic Park" as crossed with legendary germaphobe Howard Hughes), it's about to be handed over to brown-noser Kendall Duncan (Guy "I Once Starred in 'L.A. Confidential'" Pearce), much to Skeeter's dismay since he was promised long ago at the sale that if he stuck around long enough, the place would be his.

Accordingly, he's got 25 years of pent-up frustration that gets released in the form of impromptu bedtime stories told to his healthy-eating and no-TV-watching young niece (Laura Ann Kesling) and nephew (Jonathan Morgan Heit) while their school principal mom (Courtney Cox) is out of town trying to find a new job. Helping him with the kids is a pretty teacher (Keri "Remember Me, I Was in 'Waitress?'" Russell) and a fellow hotel employee (Russell Brand, so good in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," so bad here having to play a clerk suffering from sleep panic disorder syndrome).

In usual movie fashion, the bachelor protagonist doesn't know how to handle kids, but quickly improvises, mainly in the form of those bedtime stories. They, of course, are just thinly disguised riffs (in the settings of medieval times, ancient Greece, the Old West, and somewhere in future outer space) on how he feels about being dissed at work, and thus the visual representations of the made-up characters are really just all of the main story's players in costume.

The twist is that parts of those stories end up coming true the following day, and since Skeeter has been given the second chance to compete against his rival for the coveted position, the handyman tries to manipulate those stories into his future success. Unfortunately for him, it's the kids (and/or their saucer-eyed guinea pig who's used as a recurring sight gag to the point that you'll want to tear out your own eyes to try to put an end to his appearances) who unknowingly control the protag's destiny, and they'd rather come up with their own stories rather than play with his.

Unfortunately for us, the filmmakers' collective imagination in coming up with theirs is insipid at best, and the flow of the plot and everything else about the movie is so scattershot, dumb and predictable that it comes off feeling as if young kids concocted the entire mess while distracted by playing video games. As bad as that is, the weakest element is Sandler whose usual lowbrow comedy style (that I don't personally care for but understand how/why it plays to his fan base) has been pretty much neutered by the family friendly tag.

Accordingly, we get to delight in watching him squeeze toothpaste onto his wheat germ sandwich, do some pratfalls, and give a presentation with his swollen tongue sticking out of his mouth (following a bee sting) resulting in a string of mumbles. It's as dumb (and boring, considering it just goes on and on and on) as it sounds, and the various imagined bedtime story bits don't fare any better in concept or execution.

If there's one lone positive thing I can say about the film, it's that it will make you want to rush out and see "The Princess Bride" once again to prove that filmmakers can make smart, funny and engaging movies about imaginative bedtime stories. The chapter on this one shouldn't just be closed, it should be run through the shredder and then incinerated before any thoughts of a sequel form in anyone's mind. While I wasn't expecting much from his pic, it's even worse than I imagined it possibly could have been, and thus "Bedtime Stories" rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed December 18, 2008 / Posted December 24, 2008

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