I have long been a fan of Guy Pearce, whose penchant for taking on small but meaningful roles has created one of the most diverse and surprising resumes for an actor of his caliber. Each week in 2020, I’ll be reviewing one of my Guy’s films, exploring just how wild his career has been.
In the pantheon of “actors slumming it in a Happy Madison film as Adam Sandler’s antagonist,” I’m pretty partial to Guy Pearce’s turn as flamboyant wannabe hotel magnate Kendall Duncan in Bedtime Stories.
It’s a mode Pearce is rarely asked to engage — energetic, fluid, snotty and larger than life. What’s more, the plot device of the film allows both Pearce and Sandler a wide variety of costumes, from medieval knights to space gladiators. It’s a goofy performance for a goofy film.
Bedtime Stories is smack dab between You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Funny People in the Sandler canon, and could’ve been written by a computer programmed with the rest of Sandler’s films. He plays Skeeter Bronson, a down-and-out man-child hotel maintenance worker owed greatness by birthright / innate talent. Skeeter’s father used to own the hotel and sold it with the proviso that Skeeter inherit it.
Meanwhile, Jill Hastings (Keri Russell) is a beautiful woman who puts up with Skeeter, hating him at first but secretly digging his disheveled attitude. Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) is an authority figure with the power to grant Skeeter’s wishes but who gets in his way — usually emboldened by a sycophant vying for the same prize (Pearce’s Kendall).
Naturally, two kids help Sandler learn to be an adult. This time, Skeeter is forced to babysit his niece and nephew while his sister, Wendy (Courtney Cox), is out of town. He comes to realize that the bedtime stories they concoct together start to come true in the real world, albeit in monkey paw-ish “be careful what you wish for” ways. This comes in handy when Barry Nottingham announces that Skeeter and Kendall will have a chance to present their competing philosophies for the future of the hotel.
Bedtime Stories doesn’t only regurgitate plot, but jokes as well. It’s the same sense of “dumb humor” as the rest of Sandler’s movies, just more tired and lazy (as indicated by his niece and nephew’s big-eyed guinea pig and the appearance of Rob Schneider as a Native American stereotype). Disney made bank on this production, so they’re probably not complaining. But yeesh.
In Jack & Jill, a much better Sandler outing, “celebrity guest star” Al Pacino has a classic song-and-dance number. So does Pearce here, receiving a short but lovely moment when Kendall announces his Broadway-themed hotel. It does not seem to be on YouTube.
Then again, there’s clear low-key homophobic humor in the treatment of Kendall as a flamboyant character whose interest in musical theatre is considered inherently weak. Most of Sandler’s films have humor like that, given that they’re about the redemption of cruel man-children. Although he’s often bullied, the truth is that man-children want to be bullies, too.
Regardless, Pearce is great and the moment is pretty fun. His costumes are great. Bedtime Stories is a 5/10 film a best, if we’re talking monetary ranking. It’s a 3/10 Sandler film because he sleepwalks through it. As a Guy Pearce performance? 10/10. It’s great to see an actor unwind.