When was the last time you saw an Eddie Murphy comedy where he was upstaged by anybody? I can’t think of a single instance of his being overshadowed over the course of his illustrious career, from 48 Hours to Beverly Hills Cop to Trading Places to Nutty Professor to Dr. Dolittle to Daddy Day Care to Norbit.
However, in Imagine That, there are actually a couple of characters who steal nearly every scene from him. One is the adorable Yara Shahidi, who plays his young daughter; the other, Thomas Haden Church, who appears in red face, as his conniving, Native-American colleague.
This kiddie-oriented adventure relies on a familiar theme, that of the workaholic dad whose personal life is a mess because he’s neglected his family. At the point of departure we learn that Evan Danielsen (Murphy) is already separated from his wife, Trish (Nicole Ari Parker), with whom he now shares custody of their seemingly, emotionally-stunted daughter.
Trish, who is very busy between pledge season at her charity and dating her new boyfriend (Charlie Koznick), asks Evan to take care of Olivia (Shahidi) 24/7 for the next week. He grudgingly agrees, and immediately becomes impatient with his little girl’s signs of regression. She’s seven, yet still having trouble letting go of her security blanket before entering her school. In addition, she ducks under the magical comforter to retreat into a world of make believe where she talks to princesses and queens.
Exasperated, financial analyst Evan reluctantly resigns himself to an impromptu “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” Thank God Olivia’s imaginary friends have accurate investment advice to share. For their uncanny knack for predicting the stock market soon conveniently dovetails with his need for help on the job where he’s currently caught up in a cutthroat competition for a top position with Johnny Whitefeather (Church).
While “Man-whisperer” Whitefeather tries to impress their new boss (Martin Sheen) by speaking in inscrutable Indianisms involving “dreamcatchers” and “The Great Spirit” Evan ends up countering with equally-odd phrases culled from Olivia’s childlike lexicon, such as “icky” and “crybaby.” Along the way, daddy bonds with his daughter by playing along with her parallel universe.
But the pivotal question is does he suddenly care about spending quality time with her only because she’s making him money, or will he also remember to attend her Fall Sing recital at school where she’ll be soloing during the big finale, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” Hint: you don’t need to be a clairvoyant fairy to forecast where this heartwarming family affair is headed.
Worthwhile, as long as you’re willing to watch Eddie Murphy play the straight man.