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Imagine That

A family work-vs.-home comedy that trades in predictable fantasies

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First, the good news: This is Eddie Murphy's most watchable performance in years. He plays a frazzled father and investment analyst, and he's engaging and funny without being unctuous or offensive. (That role goes to scene-stealer Thomas Hayden Church, who portrays his business rival partial to spouting phony Native America-ish mumbo-jumbo to win over clients.) During a hectic time at work, Dad discovers that really listening to his mildly estranged daughter -- and her imaginary friends -- is just the insider tip he needs. But Karey Kirkpatrick's family comedy hits several road bumps. One, most of the plot -- and the best jokes -- are aimed at adults, not kids. Two, it fails to explain its key plot point: How can imaginary people living under a blanket know about business deals? And three, its final message is a work-and-family fantasy that is just insulting to peddle to real families these days. Little Yara Shahidi, who plays Murphy's daughter, is adorable, but she's also that brand of precocious child actor that Hollywood favors with virtually no resemblance any 7-year-old in real life. Kids aren't simply vehicles for cute lines some middle-aged screenwriter wrote; they're kids.

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