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Bedtime Stories, The Spirit and Marley & Me among new DVD reviews



BEDTIME STORIES (2008). A winning formula for a successful family film gets reconfigured employing the lowest common denominator, and the result is a dismal effort that will fail with all but the most undemanding of children. As for their parents, it's hard to imagine any of them warming up to a picture in which Adam Sandler, as lowly handyman Skeeter Bronson, bonds with his niece and nephew by telling them that he'll always be around "like the stink on feet." Certainly, there's an unpleasant odor emanating from just about every scene in this slapdash comedy, in which the aforementioned Skeeter learns that portions of the bedtime stories he spins to his sister's (Courteney Cox) kids have a magical way of coming true. He hopes that these fantasy yarns will somehow allow him to ascend to the position of hotel manager, but for now, the tall tales result in him getting bombarded by a shower of gumballs and kicked in the shins by an angry dwarf. The tragedy of Bedtime Stories is that several noteworthy performers find themselves whoring their talents simply to play second banana to a somnambular Sandler – among the wasted are Guy Pearce, Keri Russell, Jonathan Pryce and Lucy Lawless. The most memorable supporting characters turn out to be Bugsy, a CGI-assisted guinea pig with saucer-sized eyes, and a Native American chief (Rob Schneider) who waves his hand behind his butt as he discusses "fire and wind" (get it?). Unfortunately, they're memorable in the worst way – as symbols of a potentially interesting movie that comes crashing down as hard as that proverbial beanstalk.

DVD extras include 12 deleted or extended scenes; two making-of featurettes; outtakes; and a piece on Bugsy the guinea pig.

Movie: *1/2

Extras: **

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008). The 1951 version still holds up beautifully as a science fiction classic, but I'll refrain from taking the usual route of using a cherished original to bludgeon a shoddy remake to death. In the case of the new Day, there's no need: The film mostly fails on its own terms. This feels less like a remake of that '50s gem than a companion piece to An Inconvenient Truth – the difference is that Al Gore was a lot more fun to watch than Keanu Reeves, who's so stiff here that you fear rigor mortis will set in before the movie wraps. Reeves plays Klaatu, an alien who arrives on Earth with the intention of – what exactly? Initially, he asks to speak to our planet's leaders (as the original's Klaatu did), presumably to provide them with an ultimatum: Shape up or face the dire consequences. But the next minute, he's already settled on wiping out the human race, because all he knows about us is that we love war and violence and death. It actually comes as a shock to him that humans, as repped by sympathetic scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (an annoyingly self-conscious Jaden Smith), are capable of love and affection and devotion. I dunno, you'd think a visitor from a far advanced civilization would have done a little bit of intergalactic homework before stopping by – at least a cursory glance through the best-selling Earthling Traits for Dummies or something. This inconsequential production strives to seem important by addressing humankind's destruction of our natural resources and intrinsic need to pollute the planet – and yet one of the movie's key scenes is set inside a McDonald's. Nice.

The three-disc special edition includes a copy of the 1951 original as well as a digital copy of the '08 model for portable media players. (My advice: Keep the '51 disc and use the other two for coasters.) Extras include audio commentary by screenwriter David Scarpa; three deleted scenes; a half-hour making-of featurette; a piece on the search for extraterrestrial life; and still galleries.

Movie: *1/2

Extras: **1/2

DOUBT (2008). While Ron Howard managed to transform Frost/Nixon into a living, breathing motion picture, writer-director John Patrick Shanley never quite made it past the curtain call with Doubt. Adapting his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Shanley doesn't possess Howard's cinematic instincts, resulting in a movie that remains resolutely stage-bound. But that's not necessarily a sign of defeat: No one could ever really argue that Mike Nichols' superb Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? managed to shuck the playhouse chains, either. Doubt is no Woolf, of course, but blessed with a quartet of strong performances, it's weighty enough to earn its rightful place on DVD shelves. Set in 1964, the film examines a battle of wills taking place at St. Nicholas in the Bronx. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the strict principal of the school, isn't crazy about Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose desire for a more progressive direction within the Catholic church flies in the face of her old-school ideology. So when timid Sister James (Amy Adams) airs her suspicions that Father Flynn is being a bit too chummy with an altar boy, Sister Aloysius works on getting him ousted. But is she truly convinced of his guilt, or is she merely using the issue as a way to force out the theological thorn in her side? Pulitzer notwithstanding, Shanley's play was disappointing in the manner in which it took the obvious way out. The movie can't overcome that hurdle, though it can be argued that Shanley adds an extra layer of ambiguity to the proceedings. Still, what really matters is the cast, and there's no doubt that Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Viola Davis (as the mother of the allegedly molested student) do heavenly work. All four received Oscar nominations, as did Shanley for his screenplay.

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