Arguably the most innocuous pic of Eddie Murphy's career to date, "Imagine That" is an undemandingly pleasant, mildly amusing fantasy in which nothing -- not even those elements that actually define it as a fantasy -- is ever allowed to get of hand. Arriving amid the summertime cavalcade of comedies suffused with raunchy tomfoolery, it may be greeted as a godsend by parents who want to spend an afternoon at the megaplex with their preteen daughters. It's difficult to imagine, however, that this PG-rated Paramount/Nickelodeon presentation will draw many ticketbuyers outside that narrow (albeit potentially profitable) niche.
The latest in a seemingly endless line of sentimental laffers about stressed-for-success dads who reconnect with their neglected kids, "Imagine That" finds Murphy working in a very engaging but atypically understated mode. Indeed, even on those occasions when his character, Denver-based financial manager Evan Danielson, engages in some spirited comic riffing -- silly voices, prancy dancing -- his behavior seems no more manic than the everyday horseplay of a father interacting with a young child.
Unfortunately, Evan has been too wrapped up in his job to spend much quality time with his young daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi). His estranged wife (Nicole Ari Parker) more or less forces their child on him for a week of bonding, but Evan finds little time in his overcrowded schedule to be a dutiful dad.
Little wonder, then, that Olivia seeks companionship with invisible playmates in an imaginary world. Evan is annoyed by Olivia's propensity for make-believe -- until the invisible playmates start to provide, through Olivia, exceptionally prescient investment advice.
Before long, Evan is a supernova at the investment firm where his soon-to-retire boss (Ronny Cox) is seeking a successor. The other candidate is Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a self-styled mystic whose Zen-like affectations and faux-Native American gobbledygook barely disguise his ruthlessly competitive streak.
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