*1/2 (out of 5)
June 12, 2009
Eddie Murphy as EVAN DANIELSON
Thomas Haden Church as WHITEFEATHER
Yara Shahidi as OLIVIA
Nicole Ari Parker as TRISH
Ronny Cox as TOM STEVENS
Martin Sheen as DANTE D’ENZO
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There are many reasons that you might consider “Imagine That” to be a run-of-the-mill family movie. First, it stars Eddie Murphy, who has made his own little cottage industry of starring in arguably awful family films like “Daddy Day Care” and “Dr. Dolittle.” Second, there’s the story element of a child dealing with a broken family in the tradition of movies like “The Game Plan.” Third, there’s the fact that the movie is released by Nickelodeon Pictures, rated PG and is being heavily advertised on the kids’ networks.
However, the movie is nothing more than another vehicle for Eddie Murphy. For a supposed film for kids, the character of Murphy’s on-screen daughter takes a pretty subdued back seat.
The story follows Evan Danielson (Murphy), an investment advisor who is trying to claw his way up through the ranks of his firm. When child care scheduling conflicts arise with his ex-wife, he’s stuck with his daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi). Soon, he discovers that Olivia’s imaginary friends are able to predict which investments are good and which ones are bad, which leads Evan to develop a stronger relationship with his daughter.
Golly. When the plot is distilled down in this way, it really doesn’t sound like a kids’ movie. Instead, it sounds like Evan is simply using his daughter – or rather her “imaginary friends” – to get ahead in work. In fact, it seems from this plot description I just gave that Evan really doesn’t care about – and has never really cared about – his daughter, but instead about his work.
And you know what… that’s absolutely correct.
The entire plot of “Imagine That” is one giant example of the ends justifying the means. Sure, there’s a redemptive moment at the end of the film, and the writers desperately try to show Evan having a certain level of growth and development. However, until that very last few moments of the film, everything Evan does is for purely selfish reasons. It’s only by dumb luck that he grows closer with his daughter.
And Murphy is as selfish with this film as his character is. Where Yari Shahidi is absolutely adorable as Olivia, she’s stuffed into the background of the film, giving way to numerous scenes of Murphy mugging for the camera or developing his pathetic character.
Contrast this film to any number of similar movies – like “The Game Plan,” “The Pacifier” or “Bedtime Stories” – and you won’t find a bigger camera hog than Eddie Murphy in this film. Even in the movie’s climax, which is supposed to show his true love and support for his daughter, he steals the spotlight and becomes the star of her show.
While some adults who just adore Eddie Murphy might find the film funny, I would imagine that many kids are going to be bored. For a kids’ movie, there are shockingly few kids in it, and virtually none with any character or plot significance. Similarly, for a film that has such a fantastic premise, there are no fantastic elements to the film. It’s like watching an episode of “Muppet Babies” and being assured that everything that happens in the movie is nothing more than a spark of imagination in the playpen.
But the biggest problem this movie faces is that fact that no amount of poop jokes are going to make the world of investments interesting to children, and sadly, that is the focus of the majority of scenes in the first 45 minutes.
For a film with a title like “Imagine That,” it was devoid of clever and creative imagination.