The Popcorn Reel

Imagine That
Imagine That -- Eddie Murphy In A Sweetheart Of A Movie

Eddie Murphy as Evan and Yara Shahidi as Olivia in Karey Kirkpatrick's comedy "Imagine That", which opened today across the U.S. and Canada.  (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

By Omar P.L. Moore/       SHARE
Friday, June 12, 2009

Eddie Murphy has been off the mark for much of the 2000s with mostly forgettable roles in even more forgettable films and with the notable exception of his impressive work in "Dreamgirls", there has been a heretofore unanswered all points bulletin in search of Mr. Murphy's infinite skill and talent from his films of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Until now.

"Imagine That", which opened today across the United States and Canada, is a sweet gem of a film and showcases Mr. Murphy's talents without drowning them in special effects.  There's no special effects at all in this tale (except perhaps a slight hint of one near the film's conclusion) about a workaholic businessman who is paying more attention to statistics, financials and his Blackberry than to his daughter Olivia (the adorable Yara Shahidi in her big screen debut), whose imagination plays a key part in her father's success on the job.  Evan Danielson (Mr. Murphy) is a Denver businessman trying to climb the ladder with a portfolio of financial forecasts that could make or break his relationship with the company where he works.  Evan's relationship with his former wife (played by the alluring Nicole Ari Parker) is polite and cordial, something of a novelty for most similarly-situated onscreen marital disruptions in Hollywood films.  The strength of Karey Kirkpatrick's film is in Mr. Murphy's chemistry with Miss Shahidi, as well as good acting from the youngster herself.  In films like this about imaginary friends (with whom Olivia communicate) we typically see visuals cueing us to the idea that the imagined ones are indeed real.  Here, Mr. Kirkpatrick and company don't fall for that trick.

While Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures teamed up to produce and present this enjoyable film for kids and adults alike it should be pointed out that there are a few ragged edges -- the film, written by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson wanders and stumbles in places, presenting a potential obstacle for Evan with his former wife's date Rick (Charlie Koznick) but not following through with it.  "Imagine That" however, is most annoying and tiresome when the character Johnny Whitefeather (played by the normally effective Thomas Haden Church) shows up, a wannabe Native American who works at Mr. Murphy's job and is a rival to him.  "Imagine That" makes it clear that his presence is nothing but irritating, and Martin Sheen, who plays the company's head, points out the offensive nature of Whitefeather's "imitation" of Native American culture and tradition, as if to underscore the obvious.  If Mr. Church's character is meant to play for laughs, then he fails woefully.  Overall though, "Imagine That" is a funny, cute and entertaining film, marking a wonderfully warm welcome back to successful comedy for Mr. Murphy, and that news in and of itself has been a long time coming.

With: Vanessa Williams, DeRay Davis, Ronny Cox, Mel Harris, Catherine McGoohan, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Charlie Koznick, Lauren Weedman and Stephen Root.

"Imagine That" is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some mild language and brief questionable behavior.  The film's duration is one hour and 36 minutes.

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