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Eddie Murphy is charming opposite Yara Shahidi.

Bruce McBroom

2 out of 4 stars


Imagine That

  • Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick
  • Written by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson
  • Starring Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church and Yara Shahidi
  • Classification: G

Imagine that - an Eddie Murphy comedy that's actually endearing. After his string of fat-suit and groan-inducing family comedies ( The Haunted Mansion , Daddy Day Care ), Murphy's new film, opening in time for Father's Day, is a mildly pleasant shock.

Murphy plays Evan Daniels, a Denver-based financial whiz, whose estranged wife (Nicole Ari Parker) insists he needs to spend a week bonding with their seven-year-old daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi). Obsessed with his computer charts and cell phone calls, Evan treats the presence of his daughter like a professional handicap, but Olivia listens to everything he says. Hiding under her blue security blanket and talking with a trio of imaginary princess friends, she starts offering advice on what decisions he should make.

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When Evan inadvertently parrots her intuitions, he's unexpectedly successful and soon begins enjoying the double benefit of earning kudos at work and getting to know his kid. Even more unexpectedly, Murphy is low-key and charming playing opposite his scene-stealing co-star. The two have a terrific rapport through some extended scenes - fighting, playing imaginary games, learning to sing and making messy pancakes with disgusting toppings. In contrast to Adam Sandler's similarly themed Bedtime Stories , the filmmakers have made an astute choice to avoid any special effects. Murphy and Shahidi march around his condo, stepping from a spot on the floor they call France to another which is designated as a fairy-tale forest. Together, they pacify dragons, dodge hurled rocks and talk to Olivia's imaginary royal friends, who apparently hover just over Evan's three computer monitors.

The script by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson ( Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and its sequel) is similar to a 1994 episode of The Simpsons , Lisa the Greek, in which Homer gets close to Lisa when he discovers she can predict football scores. The message in each case is about the dangerous confusion of love and money. Naturally there's a turning point (around the time Evan is screaming outside a neighbour's house, desperately trying to recover Olivia's blanket) where the child begins to wonder whether her father really loves her or just her profitable talent.

As long as the movie involves just Murphy and the child, director Karey Kirpatrick (the writer of such children's films as Over the Hedge , Chicken Run and James and the Giant Peach ), does a good job reining in Murphy's mugging and capitalizing on the star's considerable warmth. Outside of Evan's tony bachelor pad, though, the movie gets a lot less subtle, as Evan brings his inner child into the board room ("This company is do-do, stinky, ca-ca"). There are too many scenes of Murphy's character doing motor-mouth improvising about mergers, bauxite mines and fibre optics then could possibly interest either children or adults.

There's also a subplot about Evan's rival - played by Thomas Haden Church as a transparently fake Native American financial "rainmaker" named Johnny Whitefeather - whose nonsense sales pitches are a combination of Native American mysticism and motivational blather. Though Haden Church is great at projecting complacent ridiculousness, the shtick isn't funny enough to justify its prominence.

Finally, given the movie's early creative promise, the ending is disappointingly trite. It's possible that some children won't guess what will happens when Evan must choose between a big job interview and an important event in Olivia's life - but frankly, it's hard to imagine that.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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