Saturday, June 20, 2009

Imagine That

Imagine That [G]
Grade: C
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Yara Shahidi, Thomas Haden Church, Nicole Ari Parker, Ice Cube, Martin Sheen
Director: Kasey Kilpatrick

It’s always a bad thing to start a movie with your face in your palm.

That was where things were firmly planted after the first scene of Imagine That, Eddie Murphy’s latest venture into family fare. As Murphy gets tossed out of a front door – by Ice Cube no less –,he goes bug-eyed and starts crying out for his blankey. Promising stuff.

That sound you hear at that moment is critics going white-knuckle on the cupholders bracing for another Norbit or Meet Dave. So it’s a bit of a positive testament that when the scene recurs later, the film has won you over enough that the scene is at least a flyspeck funny. While never overwhelmingly successful, Imagine That ends up as semi-tolerable family fare.

Kids films should be sweet, moving. funny and joyous. They shouldn’t be sappy, cynical, overly corny, or feature letters that spell “school” with a backwards “k,” scratched out by a production assistant over lunch break. Most of all, the story should be empowering. The kids world should outsmart and overpower the adult world that surrounds it.

In that category, Imagine That does well. Murphy’s Evan Danielson is a top stock analyst with little time for his young daughter Olivia (super-cute Yara Shahidi) from his failed marriage. She has retreated into a Linus-like obsession with her security blanket. After she spins around with it on her head, it takes her to a secret kingdom with her imaginary friends. As it turns out these imaginary friends like to share excellent stock tips, but only in childish gibberish. Stock tips that turn Evan into the star of the company.

Will children warm to a movie about stock tips? I don’t know. I don’t know many dads and daughters who bond over stock tips, but whatever works. Soon, the previously inattentive father is spinning around with a blanket on his head and talking to dragons. At work, he gives out financial tips in little girl language. That is either a step up or a step down from his over-the-top Indian office rival (Thomas Haden Church), who gets his stock tips at night from conversations with the “Dream Sparrow.”

The knives are out for Murphy, so you can expect harsh reviews. But this is hardly a worthy target. It’s inoffensive. It’s cute where it should be cute. Sweet where it should be sweet. Funny from time to time. Only steps in doo-doo once. And Murphy and Shahidi have good rapport. I wouldn’t watch it again. But I can’t find horrible things to say about it, either.

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