After Norbit and Meet Dave, no one’s expecting anything approaching comedy or enjoyment from Eddie Murphy films these days. Which is just as well, because Imagine That, the latest in a line of Murphy vehicles that seem pre-programmed to destroy any last vestiges of his comic reputation, is neither funny nor all that enjoyable. Say what you will about Eddie Murphy, at least he’s consistent.
Although, where Norbit was offensive and Meet Dave cringeworthy, Imagine That at least avoids both those pitfalls. It’s just a bit dull, a family-friendly comedy that reins in Murphy to the point where this may be his most anonymous performance to date. On IMDb, the plot keywords section starts with four phrases – Red Bull, Child Abuse, American Indian, and Dancing – that promise something very different from what you get, i.e. something at least mildly interesting.
As Evan Danielson, an investment executive battling his work rival Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), Murphy doesn’t have all that much to play with. This is a Disney-lite tale, wherein Murphy’s overworked office dog starts taking investment advice from his daughter’s imaginary friends (as told through his daughter) before realising that his career is less of a priority than being a good father.
Written by Ed Solomon, a man responsible for gems such as Men In Black and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, but also nadirs like Super Mario Bros. and the Michael Douglas version of The In-Laws, Imagine That can’t quite decide who it’s aimed at. Too serious and slow for kids (the first real joke is about investment portfolios), too predictable and laboured for everyone else, the film coasts along without ever producing anything more than a slight smile every half hour or so.
As the seven year old daughter Olivia, newcomer Yara Shahidi is the best thing here, a precociously charming presence on screen who plays off of Murphy’s often irascible Danielson to great effect when given the chance. They share one great scene together, a pancake making bonding session that kids should love for its ketchup and mustard condiment selection, and Murphy fans can enjoy for the brief flash it gives of the comedian’s natural charisma.
And there’s a roster of great actors supporting Murphy and Shahidi to enjoy, even if the film doesn’t give them all that much to do. Thomas Haden Church comes off best as Whitefeather, a Native American-influenced investment exec spouting words like “Dreamsparrow” and praying to the gods of the waterfall to help guide his clients.
We also get Murphy’s old Beverly Hills Cop alumnus Ronny Cox, Martin Sheen, Stephen Root, and Richard Schiff (for any The West Wing fans out there), though none of them get to grapple with anything more than playing mild bemusement at Murphy’s investment advice based on childhood words like “poopy”. Sheen breaks out an Abraham Lincoln quote that rekindles the spirit of his President Jed Bartlet, a bright spot within the film’s bland last half hour
The film gets an extra star for Shahidi and that pancake scene, but this is further evidence that the Eddie Murphy brand doesn’t stand for much these days. Like Steve Martin, Murphy seems content to continue to lend his talents to films undeserving of them. Each one brings with it a growing disappointment that a once truly gifted comedian is sliding inexorably towards a shelf marked ‘used to be funny’. And what’s worse, he doesn’t seem to mind.
It’s a serviceable family film, and it’s much better than Meet Dave. But that’s not much of a recommendation is it?
There’s plenty on here, though not much of it geared towards the little ‘uns, which seems odd considering most adults won’t have much reason to delve any deeper into Imagine That.
‘Playground of the Mind’ is a series of interviews with the film’s main players on their own thoughts about imagination. It includes some pleasant recollections from Martin Sheen and Ronny Cox, with childhood photos of the latter to boot.
‘What Were They Really Saying’ featurette is a nice touch, letting us see and hear the video reports playing in the background of the office scenes. There are more elsewhere, one looking at the Native American influence in the film, another at director Kirk Kirkpatrick and Murphy with gushing cast members.
A few are more fun and child-friendly. A set tour hosted by the bubbly and enthusiastic Shahidi, and a brief one capturing Kirkpatrick and Murphy’s praise for their young star are quite enjoyable. Plenty of outtakes too, most of them funnier than anything in the film. And to round things off there’s a commentary from director Kirkpatrick and Shahidi.
The Film:The Disc:
Imagine That is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.