For the first time since “The Nutty Professor,” Eddie Murphy merges his responsible adult and mischievous kid personas as a buttoned-down Denver financial analyst whose daughter forces him to discover his inner child.
Separated from his wife, Trish (Nicole Ari Parker), workaholic Evan Danielson (Murphy) is engaged in a losing power struggle with a corporate colleague (Thomas Hayden Church), a pompous, pseudo-Native American who calls himself Johnny Whitefeather. Their boss, Tom Stevens (Ronny Cox), is retiring and they’re competing to fill his shoes as the company restructures under a Warren Buffett-like guru, Dante D’Enzo (Martin Sheen).
When Evan is forced to bring his troubled seven year-old daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi), to the office one week, she scribbles all over an important business report. He is furious until he realizes that wide-eyed Olivia’s intuitive drawings are coded, unerringly prescient stock-predictions that have been delivered to her by imaginary friends in the magical land of princesses, dragons and unconditional love that exists under her purple security blanket that she calls “Goo-Gaa.” Suddenly, Evan turns into a doting dad, not out of devotion – at least at first – but propelled by the delusion of what Olivia’s pretend ‘friends’ can do for his career.
What works is the gently goofy chemistry between maniacal Eddie Murphy and enchanting Yara Shahidi. What falters is Thomas Hayden Church’s over-the-top ranting that borders on being offensive. Writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson and director Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”) never really develop the sentimental concept, except for the unforgettable use of the Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love,” and all the investment-banking jargon sails ‘way over the heads of youngsters in the audience. What’s even more disappointing is that Olivia’s make-believe world remains just that, an unseen fantasy that exists only in her mind. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Imagine That” is a mildly amusing, family-friendly 5, aimed at pre-teens and their parents, perhaps over Father’s Day.