Movie Review by Samuel Taradash
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Nicole Ari Parker, Ronny Cox
Director: Karey Patrick
Evan Danielson (Eddie Murphy) needs to do two things: look after his daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi) for a week and produce profitable investment advice. But his daughter relies on her security blanket and imaginary friends to cope with… something about her parents’ divorce which is never mentioned again. And Evan’s job is under threat from Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a superhumanly smarmy rival with a Native American seer shtick. So, bond with the kid, beat the competition, keep the great job. Simple, right? Unfortunately, that’s about it for the story of IMAGINE THAT. So the main hook, which is something to do with getting cash and career rewards for listening to your children, winds up wedged into a confused movie with no real heart.
For example, how many children under the age of 12 are going to be interested in corporate investment? That delightful topic dominates most of the film, and not in a wacky, kids-running-the-office way. And who thought a training montage featuring Eddie Murphy topless and hitting a punching bag would naturally fit in the opening scenes of a family comedy? No, not wearing-a-comedy-character-fat-suit topless, the kind of macho-man-shirtlessness that’s supposed to demonstrate physical prowess. No, I don’t know why it wound up in there either.
IMAGINE THAT is loaded with those sorts of perplexing mismatches and baffling choices. It’s a children’s film where the action rarely involves children. Business people wind up speaking playground potty-talk, but that payoff comes after 40 minutes of grindingly realistic business speak. The daddy-daughter bonding moments are openly driven by daddy’s desire for stock tips, and even they are still rushed through so Eddie Murphy can pull more faces. Thomas Haden Church’s portrayal of Johnny Whitefeather, the superhumanly smarmy Native American investment advisor, is a role that he nails, by the way, with swaggering humor and teflon insincerity. But then none of the other characters notice that by embracing Johnny’s puddle-shallow approximation of ethnic spirituality, everyone around him is accidentally exposed playing to stereotypes in a G-rated BORAT moment. The film is shallow, manipulative, and utterly dismissive of the value of actual parental interaction.
The best thing can be said of IMAGINE THAT is that it’s not another one of Eddie Murphy’s ego-trips through fat-suit land and fart-joke junction. But children will be bored by the focus on business, the proceedings are almost totally lacking in childish abandon or joy. The kids get one scene with a gloopy ketchup-and-mustard-covered pancake, two scenes of adults using playground equipment before falling down, and a couple of wisecracking pre-teens with sassy lines, and not much more. If you want some sort of business themed family film, skip this for BIG with Tom Hanks. And if you insist on something with Eddie Murphy, well, look for one that doesn’t involve him pretending to be Asian or dressing like an overweight woman, if you can imagine him in such a film.