‘Imagine That’: Eddie Murphy’s Family Fare Predictable as Sunrise

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CHICAGO – Nobody expects an actor to maintain the ambitions of their early career. The manic energy of Eddie Murphy from “Raw” or “48 Hours” is as gone as an ‘80s hairdo. But the numbing sameness of family-friendly Eddie is a direction that is stultifying, and does no favors for him or the audience.

“Imagine That” is actually based on an intriguing premise – that the imaginary friends of Eddie’s daughter (a sweet Yara Shahidi) can also predict the market trends of her father’s investment company.

Murphy plays Evan, the overstressed yuppie of moviedom, living in Denver and raising his daughter Olivia as a divorced Dad. We presume that his workaholic ways split his marriage and makes the relationship with his daughter non-existent, because that is how all high-flying executives who need a comeuppance are portrayed in these types of movie scenarios.

Eddie Murphy in ‘Imagine That’
Eddie Murphy in ‘Imagine That’
Photo credit: © Paramount Pictures

Evan’s main rival at the investment firm is Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a Native American Indian who wows investors with his spiritual recitations on monetary futures (I wish I were kidding about this). Evan is pushed against the wall with this competition, at the same time dealing with Olivia’s need for attention and her security blanket.

The last straw nearly comes when Olivia draws on some important papers with crayon and glitter, that leads to a breakdown rant from Evan in an investor’s meeting. But everything predicted about the companies on those magically illustrated papers comes true, which Olivia explains comes from her imaginary princess friends. Evan in turn begins to spend more time with his daughter, getting life lessons along with fabulous market tips.

The narrative pressure to go back and forth from being a somewhat dishwater satire on adults making money to the touchy-feely relationship between Evan and Olivia does neither side of the story any justice. Between Eddie’s penchant for mugging through scenes and the involved explanations of the imaginary world there are long stretches when nothing much happens.

Yara Shahidi and Eddie Murphy in ‘Imagine That’
Yara Shahidi and Eddie Murphy in ‘Imagine That’
Photo credit: © Paramount Pictures

This is a family movie, however, and reading too much into it is drowned out by the peals of the children’s laughter at the attended preview. This genre, while lethally familiar to any adult who has endured the movies of their kid’s formative years, is still fresh to a child looking for sense from the hard-charging world of their parents or role models. The movie business cynically knows this, and keeps cranking them out, with Eddie Murphy always eager to come on board.

The direction, by animation veteran Karey Kirkpatrick (”Over the Hedge”) is his first shot at live action, and he has a nice touch with scenic shots (around Denver) and camera movement. And while the screenplay, by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, has those aforementioned long nothing stretches, it does deliver on the connection between Evan and Olivia.

Sadly, like the Sean Penn film “I Am Sam”, the film uses the songs of The Beatles as a touchstone for emotional shortcuts. This filtering of these songs, sung by different artists to sell yet more soundtracks, reduces their essence to background noise and strips them of any intended meaning. I don’t want to picture Eddie Murphy making a face while listening to “Here Comes the Sun”.

It’s just a family movie, I keep repeating to myself.

’Imagine That’ opens Friday, June 12, and features Eddie Murphy, Yara Shahidi, Thomas Haden Church, Ronny Cox, Nicole Ari Parker, Vanessa Williams and Martin Sheen. Check local theaters for film and showtimes.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

R. Chism's picture

Yes, repeat after me: It's just a family movie..

Better yet, how about taking the word, “just” out, and repeating, “It’s a family movie…It’s a family movie…It’s a family movie…It’s a family movie…”

I have never been a fan of Eddie Murphy, despite the fact that we come from the same “tribe,” and folks in my tribe have always loved to see “our people” on the big screen—especially folks MY age, who can remember when “Sammy” was on TV, and if you MISSED him, you might not see him again for another year!

Anyway, Eddie never moved me. And I’m talking about, AS AN ACTOR. But, THIS time, he was PERFECT. Every facial expression; ever nuanced [and un-nuanced] gesture—everything! And the way he captured that frantic, “fast-track” pace of high-level corporate America, was great. He was masterful.

And I have a BIG BEEF with this…critic [and with American society]. Why is it that something ALWAYS has to be, “new” or “fresh” or “different” or “unique” or from “another angle,” in order to be accepted as good? Always? ALWAYS!!!!???? We all like, and even need, “new” and “fresh” and “unique.”

But, I submit that one PROBLEM with our society is how easily we move from decade to decade, and then close each decade out with, “Well, that was the ’60s,” or, “That was the 70s,” often never carring on those GOOD things that we learned in those prior decades.

So, to LOVE was “The ’60s.” To try to MAKE A DIFFERENCE was “The ’70s.” To have your family as the center of your life was, “The ’50s.” And that, in my opinion, is why we’re so damned DUMB. Because we close out a decade—and everything that was GOOD about the decade.

So, we end up having to RE-LEARN what we should have never forgotten. And that’s why we’re still trying to get health care passed; prevent union-busting; fight corrupt politicians [I know: That’s a redundancy], etc: because WE FORGET. We relegate any given decade to “the past,” and label anything from that decade as, “old school,” or “un-interesting,” and a host of other labels.

The movie is PERFECT. It IS a family movie. And, yes, the moment I walked into the theatre, and the movie began, I knew precisely where it was going, even though I had not read one thing about the movie. Because I’d seen it tons of times, in movies of the past.

Tell me this: How “new” does LOVE have to be? Love is love. It don’t HAVE to be “new.” It never closes out at the close of a decade, although we seem to do a damn good job at closing out even those things that are GOOD.

I think we need a little LESS new, and a lot more “OLD.” But, for those of us who need “new,” Imagine That DOES offer new. It’s an old story, but with very new and interesting backgrounds that did not exist “in my day.”

So, again, repeat after me: “It’s a family movie.” Or, as the saying goes, “It is what it is.” —Ron—

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