- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
t’s the ‘90s all over again. Two movies featuring a child that has a profound, borderline mystical impact on the life of a self-absorbed grown-up, which the grown-up then abuses for his own selfish interests, only to learn a Valuable Life Lesson in the end? Truth be told, it seemed much sexier when the dueling projects involved viruses, volcanoes and meteors. And unlike those other movies, which hit the multiplexes within weeks of each other – well, except the virus projects, as “Crisis in the Hot Zone” was killed once they saw how far ahead of them “Outbreak” was – “Imagine That” is hitting theaters a full six months after the similarly themed “Bedtime Stories,” and a mere two weeks after Pixar’s latest blockbuster “Up.” This puppy has its work cut out for it, to be sure.
Which is a shame, because “Imagine That,” while far from perfect, improves upon “Bedtime Stories” in every conceivable way, from casting and acting to the tone and complexity of the story. Most importantly, this movie has heart, where “Bedtime Stories” had none.
Eddie Murphy stars as Evan Danielson, a successful portfolio manager but lousy father and now ex-husband. Evan is trying to back out of his promise to take his daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi) for a week, but through happenstance he discovers that Olivia, with the help of her imaginary friends, has an uncanny knack for predicting which stocks to buy and which to sell. This is fortunate, because Evan’s getting bum-rushed at work by rising star Johnny Goodfeather (Thomas Haden Church), and could use the extra help. As a result, Evan bonds with his daughter in ways he never has before, but soon poisons the well by using their quality time to advance his career.
Murphy has been slumming in the kiddie section for years now – or worse, doing mean-spirited, unfunny vanity projects like “Norbit” – but this is easily his best lead role in years. It’s smart, it’s reasonably clean, it highlights all of Murphy’s best qualities (dancing, singing, being silly), and most importantly, the movie doesn’t talk down to kids the way that a lot of kid’s fare does. And holy cow, look at that supporting cast. Thomas Haden Church is having a ball here as the faux-visionary Goodfeather (bonus points for the hair), while Stephen Root, Richard Schiff and Martin Sheen appear in brief but memorable supporting roles. Newcomer Yara Shahidi is also adorable as the creative but vulnerable Olivia.
The catch to these kinds of movies is that when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, which is why “Bedtime Stories,” despite being inferior to “Imagine That” in every way, will ultimately bring in more bread at the box office simply because it got there first. As much as I admire the execution, they cannot disguise the familiarity of the story. This is not their fault, of course, but it is their cross to bear nonetheless. The movie also shamelessly tugs the heartstrings, so be forewarned, parents: this movie is trying to break your heart.
“Imagine That” is probably going to get buried at the multiplexes, and that’s a shame. It’s a cute movie with some rather poignant lessons for the parents (never put yourself ahead of your kids, don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself in order to make your kids laugh). If you’re looking to distract the kids for a couple hours, well, take them to see “Up” first, but “Imagine That” is not a bad consolation prize.