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The film opens like most fairytales with the narrated words “Once Upon A Time.” We are introduced to the Bronson family, who own a small, struggling hotel. The father regrettably decides to sell it to a wealthy businessman named Barry Nottingham (played by Richard Griffiths) with the promise that one day his young son would run the hotel. 30 years later we find out that dad is dead, the small hotel has been turned into a successful hotel monstrosity, and the only thing the now grown-up son Skeeter Bronson (played by Adam Sandler) is running is hotel maintenance. The only sadder thing than this reality is his own self-delusion that the wealthy owner might live up to his promise to one day let Skeeter be manager of the hotel.
Another sad story is the fact that his sister Wendy (Courtney Cox) is a recently divorced mother of two kids. When she must go on a job interview in another state, she decides to ask Skeeter to watch the kids at night, despite the strange fact that she hasn’t invited him to see the kids in over four years. When Skeeter quickly runs out of things to do with the kids since their mom forbids TV (among a few other eccentric rules), he decides to tell them a bedtime story. The story he tells is about his alter-ego character, a medieval peasant, and his quest to become the rightful heir to the kingdom.
The kids embellish the story and the next day the most outlandish details from their embellishment starts to come true. It is interesting to see how the story will come to fruition in Skeeter’s life. For example, the kids imagine that it starts raining gumballs in the bedtime story and the next day a truck full of gumballs crashes on the freeway, with all the gumballs falling down on Skeeter’s car below.
Skeeter must be a little dumb because he never pauses for a moment to consider how fantastic or coincidental any of this is. Instead, he immediately accepts that what the kids say in the stories do indeed happen in his real life. Therefore, he sets out to try and get the kids to tell a story that will benefit him, like a new Ferrari and especially a better position as manager of the hotel. It’s sad that never once does he think of using these stories to try and do good for others. But then again, this is a comedy fantasy and no good lessons are expected.
The stories told each night take us to magical worlds (made possible with some cool CGI effects) where Skeeter is a knight, a cowboy, a gladiator and a space adventurer. Like most stories, he must face a villain (Guy Pearce) and woo a girl (Keri Russell). The pre-teens should enjoy and parents might appreciate the cleaned-up version of Sandler’s low-brow humor. There are some good laughs, but the story can feel uneven at times (an overly melodramatic sequence at the end with the kids almost being blown-up in their school was over the top and not needed). Parts of the narrative may have turned out better if the kids had a role in embellishing the story, but it’s still a fun escape for two hours at the cinema.