imagine that

There was an Onion headline a few weeks ago that read, “New film only stars one Eddie Murphy.” Imagine That is that film, and it certainly benefits from the lone Eddie arrangement.

When I saw the wretched Meet Dave last summer, I poured a lot of shit all over the grave of the “funny Eddie Murphy.” That guy’s been gone for a long time, and anything I may have had to say about his new family friendly (and hacky) persona was like throwing a pebble into the Grand Canyon. And I’m sure dude could give a flying fuck as long as those Klumps residual checks keep piling in.

The thing is, and judging by box office receipts I’m not alone here, I don’t know how to quit this guy. Even in Meet Dave, which, it bears repeating, is a terrible, terrible movie, there’s still a little glimmer in Murphy’s eye of what used to be. It’s like some kind of sad clown shit; he’s almost got it in him, he just can’t bring himself to try.

Which brings me to Imagine That, which, solo Eddie notwithstanding, fits nicely into Murphy’s family comedy paradigm. Except it’s sweet, it never panders to its audience, and, dare I say, it’s actually a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

Of course, Murphy still has a tendency to put an extra coat of shtick on all his jokes, and an extra coat of schmaltz on everything else (just like I use way too many Yiddish words for a gentile). But Imagine That is not meant to be high art, so a lot of this can be forgiven. Murphy for the first time in a long time plays the perfect tone for his target audience. The plot arc is pretty obvious, and Murphy fills in the blanks nicely.

Ah, to the plot. Murphy is a well-to-do stock trader who has never had much of a relationship with his young daughter. When he realizes the daughter’s security blanket empowers her to tell the future, Murphy uses it to make high value trades, bond with his daughter, and compete for a promotion against a shammy Native American mystic played by a hysterically deadpan Thomas Haden Church. But Murphy’s greed (oh no!) threatens to tear apart his newfound daddy-daughter relationship.

If this sounds at all like the plot of classic Simpsons episode “Lisa the Greek,” it is. And I already said that in a Twitter post when I saw the preview. And copycat fuck Scott Tobias said it in his A.V. Club review weeks later. I hate it when my pet theories are mirrored by people who actually have readers. Just so we’re square, Tobias, I was first.

But that’s…ok. I’m not looking to Imagine That for originality. Frankly, I’m just glad it didn’t have talking animals, or fat suits, or poop jokes in it. When you remove those obvious entertainment barriers, it’s much easier to see a film for what it is. I came out of the theater feeling better than I did when I went in. That’s saying something. If Eddie is working his way up to being funny again, this is a step in the right direction.

Film: Imagine That
Director: Karey Kirkpatrick
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Yara Shahidi, Thomas Haden Church, Nicole Ari Parker, Martin Sheen

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; digital projection
My grade (out of 10): 6
Rotten Tomatoes average: 43%

Next up: Year One

>> New film only stars one Eddie Murphy [The Onion]
>> Imagine That [A.V. Club]

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09.