There's something really endearing about "Imagine That," the latest family film featuring Eddie Murphy.
Her name is Yara Shahidi.
Shahidi stars as Olivia, a 6-year-old girl so desperate for her father's attention that she creates an imaginary world of princesses, queens and dragons that can, somehow, also provide stellar financial advice for her workaholic father, Evan (Eddie Murphy), an investment banker up for a big promotion if he can only outshine the Native American mumbo jumbo of the firm's latest hotshot, Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church).
While Shahidi shines, the rest of the cast of "Imagine That" falls woefully short.
So, it should be interesting. America seems to have a love affair with Eddie Murphy in just this type of role. What other actor can you think of who so consistently makes modestly entertaining family films that somehow manage to capture the box-office.
I simply can't imagine that the same will be true for "Imagine That."
Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick ("Over the Hedge") and written by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (the "Bill & Ted" films), "Imagine That" is perhaps most noteworthy for its surprising lack of imagination.
Successful father neglects daughter.
Daughter secludes herself into imaginary world.
Father finds way to connect with daughter.
Father screws up connection.
Father faces moral dilemma in film's final 15 minutes.
Father makes right choice.
Seen it before?
Yep, I thought so. Me too.
With the exception of Shahidi's Olivia, there's simply no character in "Imagine That" worth caring about.
Murphy's Evan is a self-centered shmuck whose transformation into super devoted dad in the film's waning moments is rivaled in absurdity only by Thomas Haden Church's irritatingly awful performance as Johnny Whitefeather, a man with a secret so obvious that the character becomes annoying within his first minute onscreen.
It would be easy to forgive Murphy his trespasses if "Imagine That" could truly pass as solid family entertainment. It doesn't, unfortunately. While Murphy's certainly had his share of critical and cinematic bombs, almost just as often America has forgiven him and embraced his family friendly, lightly funny fare like "Dr. Dolittle" and "The Nutty Professor."
There's simply no such forgiveness to be found in "Imagine That." While films like "Dr. Dolittle" and "The Nutty Professor" allowed Murphy to practice his unique gifts for physical comedy and outlandish characters with a gooey center of heart and happiness, "Imagine That" saves the warm and fuzzies for too late in the film and the actor's physical comedy, in the form of his experiences in his daughter's imaginary world, are only convincing because Shahidi herself sells them.
It's not so much that Murphy is awful here...it's that his character is awful. Murphy tries his best to surrender himself to the character, but even his usually adorable way of relating to children seems a bit off-kilter and manipulative.
Nicole Ari Parker does a nice job in a relatively minor supporting role as Olivia's mother, while Martin Sheen shows up as the high-powered CEO choosing between Evan and Whitefeather.
Tech credits are generally fine, but for a $55 million film set largely in an imaginary world, there's a disturbing lack of special effects and wizardry. Why Kirkpatrick left this imaginary world to the, well, imagination of audiences seems unfathomable.
Almost equally as unfathomable is the selection of a Beatles original soundtrack done in a disturbingly pop format that makes me want to pop gum and watch a Wrigley's commercial.
Stuck squarely in the middle of Murphy's usual family fare, "Imagine That" is nowhere near as awful as films like "Norbit" and "The Haunted Mansion," but lacks the spark and originality of films like "The Nutty Professor" and even "Daddy Day Care."
Remember towards the tail end of the legendary Richard Pryor's cinematic career when he was reduced to films like "The Toy?"
Hmm. Imagine that.
Eddie Murphy's following in his footsteps.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic