Saturday, December 27, 2008

Film Review--Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories
directed by Alan Shankman
written by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy
starring Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Richard Griffiths, Courtney Cox, Russell Brand, Teresa Palmer, Lucy Lawless, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Laura Ann Kesling, Jonathan Pryce

OK, on paper this film looks like a no brainer. It features an outstanding cast and was co-written by former SNL scribe and the author of pretty much every funny Sandler moment, Tim Herlihy. How could such a thing possibly go wrong? Well, fairly easily apparently. This film takes a hard right into oncoming traffic straight away and the rest of the film is spent picking pieces of glass and metal out of the faces of the unwitting who were just hoping to make it home in time to cook dinner.

The story is anemic and poorly constructed. It is told as a fairy tale with the requisite happy ending where everyone but those determined to be evil triumph and everyone in the audience is supposed to cheer. I just don’t see the point. This film is heading in one direction and nothing like taste or subtlety or nuance is going to stop it. Still, it has so much potential that it gleefully wastes on annoyances that do nothing to pad the already flailing script that is hacking blood and pissing razor blades.

The story begins with Skeeter’s (Sandler) father Marty (Pryce) selling his meager motel to a developer named Barry Nottingham (Griffiths) on the condition that he allow Skeeter to run it when he’s able to do so. Nottingham proceeds to turn Marty’s motel into a gigantic, glamourous hotel and indeed amasses two dozen others. Fast forward to the present and Skeeter is the hotel’s fix-it man who dreams of one day running the hotel. His arch enemy is Kendall (Pearce), a suck up who indeed is awarded the coveted position. Meanwhile Skeeter starts telling stories to his niece Bobbi (Kesling) and nephew Patrick (Heit) and they mysteriously start coming true. Skeeter manipulates the stories in his own life for fun and profit. Naturally, he’s a buffoon so things don’t exactly go according to plan until the end when everything magically works out and didn’t you just love it?

This film wastes so many great talents that it makes one hope that all the primary actors demanded massive payments up front. That is the only way they could have possibly agreed to become involved in this project. I just can’t figure out what Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, and Richard Griffiths are doing in this thing. Money is the only plausible explanation. Basically they have all sold their souls to Mammon and should really be ashamed of themselves. Who corrupted these enormously talented actors? How did they end up here upon reading the script?

Everything in this film is a mess. The special effects are wonky, Adam Sandler does not look good either as a cowboy, a knight, a peasant, or a Greek charioteer. He’s best when he’s just being an ass which is what he does better than anybody. Some of the best moments are simply Sandler reacting to some dumb thing that has happened. There just isn’t enough of that in this film. It’s a deadly serious family film designed for ages 3 to 6. Everyone else should stay the hell away from the theater and knit some ghastly sweater for your Aunt Pissy. On second thought, do not torture your young children with this pablum. Take them to the museum or to a botanical garden. Read them books, take them to the zoo. Teach them how to think critically by playing games above their grade or learning level. Anything but this film.

So, it turns out that only the kiddies can make their stories happen in real life. It’s as dull as it sounds and the children aren’t necessarily that cute. They are typical film moppets and should really be neither seen nor heard. But if that were to happen then the film would lose all it’s charm and wit. You know it’s trouble when all the clever lines are coming out of the mouth of a five year old girl. I take back the cute comment. These tots know how to play cute when the film needs that extra jolt of sentimentality. They manipulate the audience expertly into buying into the filth that makes up most of the film. We are supposed to believe in these munchkins and care about what happens in their drab, miserable little lives. Well, I didn’t.

This whole film hinges on old man Nottingham’s decision to tear down a school where naturally our two little babes attend in order to build an even bigger hotel. Kendall is his right hand man and proves himself to be quite dastardly which makes him into a blase, typical villain. Does he succeed? Is the hotel erected? Yawn and double yawn. It doesn’t much matter but we all know the answer to these questions. It’s a fairy tale after all albeit a wholly ineffectual one. But who can cheer against the kiddies? These sweet darlings are the pure face of innocence and deserve not to be bussed to a wretched hell hole clean on the other side of town where their bucolic lives will be torn asunder and they will most likely be subjected to any number of cruelties. Such a wicked man, that Nottingham. Greed and callousness have turned him into a mean ogre who doesn’t give a jot about the community he wants to raze solely for grandiosity and an opportunity to erect an even more ghastly monument to his fledgling primacy.

There is a bright spot in this film and it comes in the form of Keri Russell. She is such a delightful presence in this film that it’s easy to extract her from the mess and imagine an entirely different film centering around her character. Jill is as doe-eyed as the kids and her genuinely sweet natured persona shines through in everything Russell does in this film. Russell is such a delightful presence that it is exceedingly upsetting to accept that she somehow managed to end up participating in this sour, soul-draining cinematic torture session. Despite everything she shines as a beacon of light amidst much darkness and shallow posturing. She offers the only modicum of hope in an otherwise dank and dismal film devoid of meaning and a shred of integrity.

The performances in this excruciating and vile movie are uniformly wasted and held hostage by what passes for a plot. Yet, none of them save one even appear to giving freely of themselves or making a collective effort to rescue this film from its concerted hell. Guy Pearce flails about looking lost and confused for much of the film. It seems obvious that he would rather be anywhere but where he has contractually agreed to place himself for the duration of this film. His character is underwritten and over exaggerated and he comes off as a lousy antagonist who nevertheless is the catalyst for much of the second half of the film. Courtney Cox also seems absent from this film. Her performance proves how impossible it is under the best of circumstances for actors to rise above a tawdry script. It isn’t necessarily terrible but rather it lacks drive and nuance. This is a film that firmly comes down on the side of broad humor that essentially fails at every turn. As mentioned Keri Russell gives the only natural and believable performance in the film. Somehow she manages the nearly impossible and conveys a full fledged character with vitality and urgency. Adam Sandler plays the same role he’s been playing for well over a decade. He’s a man boy who is rather daft but magically pulls everything together at the end to save the day. He is good as always as garnering some laughter out of asides and goofy faces which simply cannot carry a film. Russell Brand merely prances about like a tit and seems to be terrified of something he cannot name. Poor Richard Griffiths, clearly slumming in America after a distinguished career in British films, grunts a lot and makes a series of sour faces that demonstrate precisely what he thinks about this film. Teresa Palmer knows how to toss her head the right way and how to walk and she is fabulous eye candy and makes the film watchable in a strictly superficial sense when she’s on screen. Lucy Lawless looks constipated for much of the film although her ball breaker character is good for a bit of a laugh now and again.

Overall, this film is another example of Hollywood scraping the bottom of the barrel and coming up with a gooey, thick morass that they vainly attempt to form into a passable film. Everyone in this thing comes across as trapped in a degrading exercise to see who can lower themselves the most in terms of creative viability. Yet there is room to go further down and no doubt all of these actors will find a way to put this embarrassment behind them and move on to work more worthy of their talents. They will manage to live this down and it will soon be nothing but a blight in careers filled with great roles and worthwhile films. Still, we are presently suffering through this film and its hackneyed ending that serves nobody in the end.

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