Editors' pick

Imagine That

MPAA rating: PG
Genre: Comedy
A successful financial executive (Eddie Murphy) has little time to spend with his young daughter (Yara Shahidi) until a personal crisis takes hold, and he is invited into her imaginary world.
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Nicole Ari Parker
Director: Karey Kirkpatrick
Running time: 1:47
Release: Opened Jun 12, 2009
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Editorial Review

Deciding whether to go see an Eddie Murphy movie can make you walk lopsided. On one shoulder, there's this tiny little angel whispering, " 'Shrek' . . . 'Dreamgirls' . . . '48 Hrs.' . . . ," and on the other shoulder there's a linebacker-sized demon bellowing " 'Norbit'! 'Daddy Day Care'! 'Holy Man'! 'The Adventures of Pluto Nash'!"

But "Imagine That," in which the comedian plays a careerist investment banker redeemed by fatherhood and fantasy, is also a redemptive act for Murphy, whose often deliriously misguided output has tended to make us forget what a naturally gifted (and conscientiously virtuosic) comedian he is. Through pure comic timing, he rescues what's wrong in a movie in which very much is right: Little Yara Shahidi is beautiful and natural as Murphy's daughter, Olivia; Thomas Haden Church is inspired as an inspired character, Johnny Whitefeather, a faux mystic who parlays Native American spirituality into snake-oil salesmanship. And Murphy's Evan Danielson, financial wizard-cum-Alice in Moneyland, is believable, sympathetic and often very funny.

To call "Imagine That" uneven is to be kind. On the other hand, what comedy isn't? The core conceit is a bit hackneyed. As he struggles to maintain clients, Evan discovers a quick path to happiness: In his daughter's fantasy world there are princesses who can make winning stock predictions. So he travels with Olivia to glean a kind of insider information and keep his customers from running off to Whitefeather.

It's refreshing that in effects-happy Hollywood, Evan and Olivia only imagine their travels, rather than run a gantlet of computerized hallucinations. This may turn out to be one of the more endearing aspects of "Imagine That" to its younger audiences, the ones who are still able to travel widely via the special effects inside their heads. The rest of us will make do with a movie that takes a major step toward reasserting Murphy's place as the comic heir not just to such obvious models as Richard Pryor (whom he is supposed to be playing in an upcoming biopic) but to Groucho Marx. The return of Eddie Murphy? Imagine that.

-- John Anderson (June 12, 2009)

Contains mild language and questionable behavior.