Thursday, June 11, 2009

Eddie Murphy finds a mild success in Denver

Imagine a great movie. You'll have to do just that if you see "Imagine That" because this family-oriented Eddie Murphy comedy -- filmed in Denver --doesn't qualify as great by any standards I know. Still, it's easier to appreciate Murphy in this innocuous bit of fluff than in such crass noise machines as the woeful "Norbit."

Besides, "Imagine That" offers additional pleasures for those of us who live in the Mild (no typo intended) High City. I loved the shot in which the camera rose toward the top of Invesco Field and then rushed over the lip of the stadium. The westward view from City Park can be inspiring, the downtown skyline poised against a mountain backdrop. Yes, that's Union Station. Ditto the Millennium Bridge. Throw in a little Coors Field and you've got yourself a Denver-based movie with a middle-of-the-road flavor. If a brief scene involving Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson is outdated, so be it. "Imagine That" was shot in 2007, before anyone dreamed of Chauncey Billup's triumphant return to the Nuggets.

Yes, there's a movie that goes along with the Denver backdrop, and if I tell you that the city of Denver plays better than a predictable script by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, you'll know where I stand. Didn't hate it. Didn't love it.

"Imagine That" was directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, who has done lots of work in animation. He directed "Over the Hedge," and co-wrote several other animated movies, notably "Chicken Run" and "James and the Giant Peach." Here, Kirkpatrick avoids showy moves, allowing Murphy to carry the movie along with cute Yara Shahidi, who plays Olivia, his seven-year-old daughter.

As a workaholic dad who learns that his daughter's happiness is every bit as important as career advancement, Murphy only occasionally indulges his wild side. Mostly, he serves the material, which doesn't look as if it posed the greatest of creative challenges. Evan and his wife (Nicole Ari Parker) are separated. When Evan is forced to take care of his daughter for a week, his busy career as a financial advisor is disrupted.

The story's major conceit involves Olivia's security blanket. Olivia imagines that the blanket allows her to consult with a couple of magical princesses, who not only keep her company but also offer great advice on stock purchases. Trying to gain the upper hand on a business rival (Thomas Haden Church), Evan begins to take the blanket seriously. Amazingly, his already successful career gets even better.

More interested in warming the heart than in stimulating the mind, the screenplay turns Church's character into a human cartoon, a broker who specializes in wowing prospective clients with a ludicrous combination of Native American and New Age blather.

"Imagine That" spouts its own brand of blather, warning dads against opting for career over kids. That's a nice sentiment, but the movie has the benefit of last-minute plot contrivances that are beyond the reach of most real fathers.

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