Billy Madison was the first proper Adam Sandler movie. He made a handful of films before that, mostly supporting roles in forgettable comedies, but Billy Madison was the turning point. It made him a bankable movie star and established the formula for so many of his future films. If you’ve seen Billy Madison you’ve essentially seen Happy Gilmour, The Wedding Singer, Mr.Deeds and his new one, Bedtime Stories.
In many ways Sandler is the most ecological of movie stars for the way he recycles the same movie, only with different names, so many times. You know the drill: an angry downtrodden loser reaches deep down to prove himself, in the process winning the girl while also getting comeuppance against a smarmy rich guy who gets in his way. It’s been a winning formula… until now.
This time out Sandler is Skeeter Bronson, a handyman in a hotel formerly owned by his father. His dad (Jonathan Pryce) sold their failing family business to Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) on the condition that one day his son would be promoted to general manager. Twenty five years later he’s still working as a handyman with little prospect of ever moving to the front office. When his sister (Courteney Cox), a school principal loses her job and is forced to go out of state to find another, she asks Skeeter to baby-sit her two kids. When the bedtime stories he tells the kids magically start top come true he tries to manipulate the stories for his own benefit.
Bedtime Stories is a big budget Disney fantasy with an all-starish cast of good actors that falls completely flat. It’s not simply that we’ve seen it all before—and we have—it’s that it isn’t funny. Doubt, the story of an accused pedophile priest that also opened on Christmas Day, has more laughs per minute than this poor excuse for a family comedy.
Where to start?
How about with Guy Pierce in the most obvious “I only did it for the money” performance of the year. Or seeing Jonathan Pryce wasted in a cameo only made me long for the glory days when he starred in interesting movies like Brazil. Or maybe with Richard Griffiths who seems to be channeling Benny Hill.
As for Sandler, well, I was put in the mind of Jerry Lewis, but the old Jerry Lewis who pathetically mugs for the camera and not the funny Jerry of Martin and Lewis. Sandler has proven that he is capable of much more than this. After seeing his work in Reign Over Me it’s disappointing to watch him revert back to his old habits—pulling faces and speaking in goofy voices—for an hour and a half.
Bedtime Stories goes where many Adam Sandler have gone before. Director Adam Shankman—the former choreographer and Hairspray helmer—thought he was making a fantasy for the whole family, but instead, has made an overly familiar film that succeeds only in being fantastically unfunny.