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it's better than NORBIT, but so is a fork in the eyeball
on January 9, 2010
Eddie Murphy is a long ways away now from his box office days, which goes to show just how hard it is to stay on top and to stay relevant. IMAGINE THAT follows his trend of starring in kid-friendly flicks, except that this one isn't as good as the SHREK films, as as good as DR. DOLITTLE or even DADDY DAY CARE. That IMAGINE THAT is watchable at all is due to some nice interplay between Murphy and the little girl who plays his daughter in the movie.
The story elements couldn't be more trite or unoriginal. Workaholic investment adviser Evan Danielson (Murphy) is intent on climbing that corporate ladder and barely finds time for his 7-year-old kid Olivia. When his separated wife sticks him with babysitting Olivia, Evan agrees - after all, he does love his daughter - but Olivia, cute but peculiar, is no match for his work portfolio. Olivia's favorite thing in the world is her googah, which is this blue security blanket and also her portal to an imaginary world and her invisible friends.
For Evan, it's hard to do work when your kid is incessantly talking silly nonsense to herself. But is it really nonsense? When Olivia's make-believe princess friends end up dispensing savvy investment tips, Evan decides that he ought to spend more time with his daughter. Er, because he loves her.
Kids may like this, probably, because Yara Shahidi is cute and earnest and simply very good as Olivia. But the story follows a predictable path. Its payoff is weak and involves Murphy's character having to get to his daughter's big school concert. Not that it matters, but we never do learn for sure if the fantasy element really is of a magical nature or rooted in a more earthbound explanation. There's an attempt near the end to suggest that maybe, just maybe Olivia's imaginary friends are real but, like I said, it's weak. Eddie Murphy does his usual enjoyable fast-talking thing, and actually he tones down his brand of silly even more in favor of constructing a more affecting emotional core to the story. It's a good move because the father/daughter moments are the best parts of the movie.
Thomas Haden Church will either make you laugh or exasperate you with his interpretation of a smarmy rival of Evan's who applies his part-Native American heritage and some weird New Agey philosophy to get the jump on our guy (Church's character is labeled a "Man Whisperer"). Stephen Root, Martin Sheen, and Ronny Cox are here, too, and so what?
The thing about cameos featuring current famous people is that, sometimes, they fall out of relevance or their situations change, and this has the effect of dating the movie. Allen Iverson is long gone from the Denver Nuggets and now back in Philly, something which jarringly took me out of the movie's story. If you're not a basketball fan, then this probably doesn't bug you.
IMAGINE THAT isn't too horrible a choice if you're looking for something to divert the kids. It's not exactly top shelf material, but there's nothing objectionable in it, other than its sin of sticking to the formula. It's certainly loads better than NORBIT, which is objectionable on so many levels.