Okay everybody: Rub a blue blankey in tiny counterclockwise circles on your face, spin around a few times, and take a voyage through the magical fantasy world of young Olivia, the adorable moppet played by Yara Shahidi in Imagine That. First, you have to get past the dragon and its master, who can be persuaded by a song-and-dance number, then shuffle through a cave until you get to a beach—and be sure to keep a smile on your face! At the end of the line, there are two beautiful princesses, and if you sweet-talk them enough, they’ll grant you the most splendiferous wish anyone has ever conceived: Surefire stock tips!
Has there ever been a less enchanting idea for an imaginary world than that one? Or any worse timing for it than now, when the stock market is viewed as ephemeral and corrupt, and the wizards of Wall Street are being chased with pitchforks? Given his growing track record of odious kiddie fare, it’s no surprise to see Eddie Murphy squandering his talents as another in a long line of movie dads who are too wrapped up in their jobs to pay attention to their kids. Murphy’s responsibilities as a market maestro and a father combine harmoniously when he discovers that daughter Shahidi’s imaginary friends are like little Charlie Sheens—a font of inside information. This helps Murphy get the jump on rival Thomas Haden Church, who uses gimmicky Native American schtick to give him an edge.
As an example of how crudely Imagine That establishes Murphy as a slickster with his priorities out of whack, here are a few signs that he’s a neglectful father: He has Bluetooth in his ear, gazes at three computer monitors side-by-side, and lives in an apartment with a private-access elevator, hardwood floors, and impractical furniture. Though he commits to a lot of embarrassing silliness, Murphy projects so little genuine warmth that his transformation barely registers, especially when the sellout ending doesn’t require a shred of real sacrifice. Besides, The Simpsons already pulled this off in “Lisa The Greek,” when Homer used Lisa every Sunday for surefire football tips; it was funnier, sweeter, and blessedly shorter.