RATING |

Great works of literature have often begun life as stories told to kids. Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, and Peter Pan. It's hard to imagine the tales of Bedtime Stories - fantasies set in ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Old West and outer space - becoming classics, although they serve the goofball purposes of Adam Sandler well enough in this antic family vehicle.

Directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), Bedtime Stories stars the man behind Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer as Skeeter Bronson, a sad-sack hotel-maintenance dude. When Skeeter's school principal sister (Courtney Cox) goes out of town, her flaky sibling is recruited to look after the kids.

And so Skeeter regales his niece and nephew - and their pop-eyed guinea pig, Bugsy - with improvised adventures and tales of derring-do. When the kids add details of their own (gumballs raining from the sky, for instance), the next day these things come true.

Sloppy, choppy, and saved by an affably low-key and typically sophomoric Sandler performance, Bedtime Stories follows Skeeter as he competes with a sycophantic hotel manager (Guy Pearce in an uncomfortable stab at comedy) for a top job in the Nottingham Hotel empire.

Owner Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths) has known Skeeter since he was a child but has never given him the shot he deserves. Now, thanks to this weird storytelling magic, Skeeter has his chance at career advancement. And even when Skeeter's tongue swells up (a wasp bite) and he has to mumble an important presentation to the hotel higher-ups, things work out in his favor - thanks to an able translating assist from his pal (the amusingly dopey Russell Brand).

I'm not sure why so many Brits and Aussies populate this Disney-produced family flick. In addition to U.K.-ers Griffiths and Brand, Jonathan Pryce shows up, too. Along with Pearce, there's Teresa Palmer - as the hotelier's heiress, a quasi-Paris Hilton - who also hails from Down Under. (And the snotty concierge is played by Lucy Lawless, a.k.a. Xena, of New Zealand.) But Bedtime Stories does have a comic buoyancy, even as its plot trots on a predictable course. Perhaps the different accents and sensibilities have something to do with that.

Also along for the ride is the bright and beaming Keri Russell, as a school teacher who at first doesn't think much of Skeeter - and who, by the end, is taking a romantic stroll on the Santa Monica sands with her improbable love interest. Bedtime Stories endorses that kind of happily-ever-after fantasy, after all.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.