Rated PG for some mild language and brief questionable behavior, 100 minutes
Well "Imagine That": the appealing new Eddie Murphy comedy isn't terrible
Eddie Murphy is a gifted, funny comedian who has had unfortunate luck with movie comedies in the last few years. With the exception of "Dreamgirls," which wasn't a comedy, and the "Shrek" movies, which are animated, his dreadful lineup includes "Norbit," "Daddy Day Care" and last year's horribly awful "Meet Dave." The pleasantly surprising "Imagine That" isn't terrible (which may not be saying much given Murphy's track record as of late), though it's calculated moves can be seen from a mile away. Predictable and bland, there are a few sweet, humorous moments that's an entertaining diversion suitable for the whole family.
Evan Danielson (Murphy) is a successful financial executive whose career is top priority, leaving little time for his imaginative but lonely 7-year old daughter Olivia (newcomer Yari Shahidi), who has an imaginary blanket that allows her to talk to her invisible friends. Olivia's imaginary friends uknowingly provide some sage but unusual financial advice that puts Evan on the fast track to head his firm, though he has competition from the equally unconventional John Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), who uses Native American nature metaphors in conveying financial advice to clients. Olivia's imaginary friends and Evan's quest for success provide some quality time between father and daughter, but Evan must still find a way to balance family and career.
"Imagine That" is a likable, agreeable comedy that is held together by Murphy and his chemistry with the precocious, delightful Shahidi. Murphy's loud, physical brand of comedy is toned down slightly here, and there are even a few memorable moments when the old Murphy - genuinely funny stand-up and improv comedian - shines through. Murphy sings, dances and moves around blithely to charm information out of his daughter's imaginary friends. A genuinely amusing moment: Murphy teaching his daughter to sing The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" for her school play.
The normally engaging Haden Church ("Sideways") is awkwardly miscast in "Imagine That" and his scenes with Murphy throw the movie off rhythm some, and the film steers toward the maudlin in its predictable climax, but there are enough amusing Murphy moments to keep the thin premise together. It's also good seeing Murphy reunited with Ronny Cox (he was the Beverly Hills police captain in "Beverly Hills Cop") and the reliable Martin Sheen pops in for a few scenes as a financial big-wig.
"Imagine That" is satisfying and pleasant enough but unoriginal given that Murphy really did this kid thing before in the stinkeroo "Daddy Day Care." It'd be truly refreshing to see the skilled comedian actually do something different, such as a another serious role like a villain or an independent film or return to standup or even a profane comedy that doesn't involve multiple roles or kids. Until then, enjoy the cheerfully appealing, entertaining "Imagine That."