Imagine That is a better movie than either of Eddie Murphy’s last two live-action films [Meet Dave and Norbit]. That might seem like damning it with faint praise, but Imagine That is a relatively well written, decent little story that is not – as the trailer might have suggested – the Eddie Murphy version of Bedtime Stories. Instead, it’s a riff on the same tropes that gave Dwayne Johnson his first big hit in The Game Plan – in this case the workaholic father [Murphy] who only begins to bond with his daughter [Yara Shahidi] when her imaginary friends give him astoundingly accurate assessments of companies in which his clients might wish to invest.
Evan Danielson [Murphy] is the investment executive dad and Olivia [Shahidi] is the imaginative daughter. To provide a little friction, Danielson has a competitor in the invest biz by the name of Johnny Whitefeather [a perfectly unctuous Thomas Hayden Church] who gussies up his investment strategies in quasi-Native American hoopla.
The script, by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, relies too heavily on the building animosity between Danielson and Whitefeather to be more than a pleasant diversion. Its saving grace is the chemistry between Murphy and Shahidi – and Murphy plays Danielson’s willingness to act silly to get investment advice from the imaginary friends with just enough looseness to suggest that, on some level, he really is beginning to bond with Olivia. The other performance worthy of note is Nicole Ari Parker, who plays Olivia’s mom, Trish, with the right amount of exasperation towards Danielson’s missteps and the right amount of protectiveness about her daughter’s feelings.
Imagine That is more than a little predictable, and it does stray too far from its emotional center on more than one occasion – but, unlike Norbit [which was just mean and ugly] and Meet Dave [which was just not funny], it does work when centered on father and daughter. Karey Kirkpatrick keeps things moving well enough that the Danielson/Whitefeather animosity zips by before it gets too far from the heart of the film – though a bit with Whitefeather’s son is pretty useless.
Overall, though, Imagine That is good enough to sit through once. Whether that one time is in a theater or at home when the DVD comes out is up to you.
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