In his first PG movie, the comedian goes for gentle, kid-friendly laughs.
Has Adam Sandler finally grown up? The perpetually juvenile actor has quietly become a fortysomething with a family. Presumably because his experiments with drama have gone largely unnoticed (most recently in "Reign Over Me") and audiences have tiptoed around his conscientious comedies such as last summer's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," Sandler has moved in an entirely different direction with "Bedtime Stories." It's a delightfully innocent movie that the actor can actually show to his two baby daughters without blushing.
The concept behind "Bedtime Stories" is as ridiculous as any Sandler movie, but its whimsical flair nonetheless makes it unique. As Skeeter Bronson, Sandler plays a lowly handyman working at a hotel formerly owned by his father. The stars align for Skeeter to reclaim the property if he can develop a better theme for the building's planned renovation than its current manager, Kendall (Guy Pearce), a fawning metrosexual and the best-dressed villain of 2008.
During a week spent baby-sitting with his adorable niece and nephew, Skeeter discovers that the allegorical bedtime story he tells the kids -- with their eager participation in adding bizarre twists, of course -- foreshadows what happens in his real life the next day.
In attempting to take advantage of this magical power (who wouldn't?), he predictably learns that fortune, females and a red Ferrari aren't in the cards for his story's happy ending. It's a muddled and altogether generic lesson that's occasionally interrupted by a limp romantic subplot, but the kids in the audience won't mind: They'll get a kick out of the quotable punch lines and the impressively imaginative visuals.
For a children's movie, "Bedtime Stories" boasts a surprising amount of star wattage -- Keri Russell especially shines as Skeeter's muse -- as well as loyal Sandler co-stars (Rob Schneider) and blooming comic talents in British entertainer Russell Brand and Minneapolis native Nick Swardson.
The film's PG rating (Sandler's first) is never threatened, so concerns about crude humor can be assuaged -- unless your definition of crude humor includes a flatulent guinea pig.
The absence of dirty jokes may be the reason some adults won't find "Bedtime Stories" rip-roaringly funny, but longtime Sandler fans may be surprised to find themselves surrendering to the movie's playful spirit -- the kind of feeling you get when playing with your kids in the back yard or, depending on your tradition, attacking the presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
Daniel Getahun is a Twin Cities writer who blogs about cinema at getafilm.blogspot.com.