"Imagine That" is a benevolent enough family dramedy, but it does a better job solidifying Eddie Murphy's obsolescence as a big screen superstar. To watch Murphy drown his cracking comedic instincts in lousy kiddie comedies over the last 10 years has been a depressing experience, but "Imagine That" goes one step further and renders Murphy boring. A painfully exaggerated concept trapped inside an especially bland movie, "Imagine That" removes the desire to see Eddie Murphy act onscreen ever again. I'd rather not watch him at all than see the man continue to torch his once imposing legacy of cinematic achievements.
An ambitious financial executive, Evan (Eddie Murphy) is fighting to maintain superiority at his firm, up against the encroaching talents of shady colleague Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), who abuses his Native American heritage to charm clients. Unable to lavish attention on his seven-year-old daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi), Evan objects when he's forced to care for her for a week, desperate to keep his child away from his complicated work life. Olivia, frequently conversing with imaginary friends (via a beloved blanket), offers assistance to her father by way of magical financial advice, allowing Evan the upper hand at work. Frantic to keep his daughter's hot streak going, Evan plunges himself into Olivia's fantasy world of dragons and princesses, finding their relationship flourishing through this bonding time. Whitefeather, sensing something magical is afoot, attempts to thwart Evan's success with his own native mysticism.
In a professional move that's not seen very often, animation director Karey Kirkpatrick ("Over the Hedge") has shimmied over to the realm of live-action cinema with "Imagine That." I assume the hope was for Kirkpatrick to impart this tale of daydreams and fantasy with a spoonful of sparkly enchantment, lifting the heavy story off the ground with a little whimsy. However, all Kirkpatrick does is make matters worse. Clearly locked into directorial survival mode, there isn't a trace of innovation coming from behind the camera. Instead, Kirkpatrick glumly rolls along with the vacuous screenplay, capturing the lumbering plotting and coarse characterizations with a paint-by-numbers effort that drags the entire film to a complete stop. Visually, "Imagine That" is tuneless family filmmaking -- Kirkpatrick shows more concern for camera focus than trying to brighten the proceedings with optical treats to match Evan's growing mania. For a film that primarily deals with financial sector one-upmanship and single father discomfort, any thinking outside of the box would've done wonders for the film's glum attitude.
Kirkpatrick also fails to lather up the actors to a fine rhythm of comedy. Murphy just looks lost with the material, bouncing back and forth between concern and berserk as the script tries to remain funny while tending to a needlessly complicated story. While grabbing a few laughs with expected Murphy improvs (a pancake breakfast melee between Olivia and Evan gives Murphy room to play), the performance unfortunately matches the inertia of the film. The actor feels strapped down, unable to fluidly maneuver in a fashion that would amplify the jokes and tame the saccharine elements of the writing. "Imagine That" is a massive waste of Murphy's time, successfully snuffing out the faintly flickering flame of life that's always managed to remain ablaze inside the actor, even through the most idiotic of motion pictures. Still, at least Murphy isn't in Church's position, trapped playing a loud Native American cliché for laughs. It's a tasteless role, slothfully performed by Church, aiming for dry sardonic edge within a film that has no use for it.
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) sustains the intended contrast of cold city life and fanciful childish ways. Interiors look remarkably clean, with amble shadow detail revealed in the careful cinematography. Colors are terrific, especially in the warm exteriors and kiddie playground areas. The BD maintains something of a film-like sensation during the presentation, with a mild amount of grain present.
The TrueHD 5.1 track is animated in spurts, stepping up when the characters enter fantasylands, necessitating a subtle punch to elevate the aural imagination cues. Dialogue is crisply sustained, while soundtrack and scoring selections jump to attention, though most of the action is frontal, with minimal LFE response. Keeping true to its family film roots, "Imagine That" is a calm BD experience, preferring to wind up the warm track than thunder through the soundstage. A Spanish 5.1 mix is also available.
English SHD, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are offered.
A feature-length audio commentary with director Karey Kirkpatrick and young star Yara Shahidi was recorded four weeks before the film's theatrical release, thus guaranteeing the absence of true filmmaking reflection. The track is simply Kirkpatrick trying to engage Shahidi, explaining technical details to the kid actress and quizzing her on the finer points of the movie. It's gets old fairly fast. There's no dissection of "Imagine That" during the conversation, and with a kid in the recording room, the director dials his sense of humor way down. These are friendly enough folk, but informative they are most certainly not.
"Yara Shahidi Set Tour" (7:28) follows the little star around the Paramount lot as she explores what life is like on a movie shoot. Visits to the craft service table and wardrobe ensue, capped off with a Kirkpatrick interview and a demonstration of Shahidi's fake teeth (called "slippers").
"A Playground of the Mind" (9:08) asks select members of the cast and crew for their childhood memories, questioning how imagination factored into their development.
"Getting the Part" (2:26) covers the audition process for Shahidi, spotlighting her very first steps as a feature film actress.
"Star Blanket: Native American Influence" (3:45) is perhaps the BD's most ridiculous featurette, asking a film consultant to sit down and justify the picture's Native American content. It's not a convincing argument, but to Kirkpatrick's credit, he looks incredibly uncomfortable when asked about the subject.
"The King and his Jesters" (7:48) is a praise shotgun aimed toward Kirkpatrick and Murphy, two guys the cast slobbers all over. All of these interviews are conducted on-set, which should give the viewer a proper idea of honesty, but this featurette takes the empty praise too far.
"What Were They Really Saying?" (5:03) is the best diversion of the disc. Ever wonder what goes on during those faux news productions, always broadcast in the background? Well, this collection of clips answers the question with unexpected results.
"Johnny Whitefeather Outtakes" (4:54) gathers all of Thomas Hayden Church's mix-em-ups for a single reel of giggles and mistakes.
"Evan and Olivia Outtakes" (5:31) moves the spotlight over to Murphy and Shahidi, as they mess around on-set.
"Deleted Scenes" (8:50) are actually a blend of outtakes and snipped moments, all of which are small, worthless pieces of drama cut for time. An alternate ending is also presented.
A Theatrical Trailer is not included.
"Imagine That" is harmless enough, with the usual run of fecal matter gags to keep the little ones interested. There's nothing here to break the routine, just a series of preheated emotions, Red Bull plugs, and the faint ick of irresponsible parenting shenanigans to maintain the brutal sensorial pressure. This isn't Murphy's worst hour, only his most deflated -- a zombie effort from one of the screen's fastest minds. At this point, there's no room left on Murphy's career coffin for another nail, so consider "Imagine That" the first shovelful of dirt.
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