Murphy’s law

“Do you remember when I used to be funny? I don’t remember it anymore either.”

“Do you remember when I used to be funny? I don’t remember it anymore either.”

Rated 1.0

Is it perhaps time to admit that Eddie Murphy isn’t as good as he once appeared to be? For the last 10 years, I’ve been writing about how Murphy—with the exception of Dreamgirls—has been appearing in junky films in a misguided attempt to be more of a “family man” at the movies. The resultant films have ranged from mildly amusing (Life) to the deplorable (Norbit).

Murphy has repeatedly hooked up with director Brian Robbins, the man responsible for Norbit and Meet Dave, two of his worst films. His next movie, A Thousand Words, is also helmed by Robbins. Murphy simply doesn’t seem to care about the quality of his efforts. He’s just a slumming movie star.

Further proof of this would be his latest misfire, Imagine That, where he is outshined by Yara Shahidi, the little girl who plays his daughter in the film. Murphy plays Evan, a Denver financial executive facing fierce competition from Whitefeather (a pathetic Thomas Haden Church). He’s stuck in a rut with his business decisions and failing miserably as a parent.

Daughter Olivia believes in an imaginary land, and she can only get there with her security blanket. She also believes the inhabitants of that land are giving her sage financial advice, which she passes on to her disbelieving father. When she doodles on Evan’s notes stuff about marrying companies and foul business practices, and her predictions come true, Evan is viewed by his superiors as some sort of genius. He also gets chummy with his daughter, and they eat burnt pancakes with ketchup.

What a brilliant idea for a family film! You know, these kids today just love that financial stuff, especially all that business about mergers and takeovers and who is going to win that big promotion. That’s the stuff that just rivets their little eyes to the movie screen, right? This film is clearly aimed at families and children, but the kids in the screening I attended were more interested in tossing their booster seats at the patrons in front of them, while the parents fiddled with the plastic bags they used to smuggle Cheetos into the place.

Church embarrasses himself as a man who mixes Native American lore into his business conferences, luring clients away from Evan and conducting chants in the boardroom. Sporting a big, dyed mullet, Church is given nothing even remotely good to do with this abhorrent character creation, and the scenes he shares with Murphy are awkward and unfunny.

One of the big problems with this film is that we never see the imaginary land where Olivia consults with princesses and dragons. I know the whole point of the film is that it just might all be in her mind, but why not show what’s going on in her mind? Some dragons and fairies and whatnot would be a whole lot more interesting than Thomas Haden Church and Martin Sheen hanging around in some financial office. No fantasy world in the budget means there’s more money to pay Murphy.

Murphy just does his usual shtick here—loud, rapid-fire line delivery with his eyes bugging out. He has some moments that are somewhat sweet, but nothing that comes off as funny. Bobb’e J. Thompson, the foul-mouthed kid from Role Models, shares a couple of minutes with Murphy late in the film. His little cameo has 10 times more comedic inspiration than Murphy’s entire performance.

There’s been a lot of talk about a new Beverly Hills Cop movie, but I think there’s a better chance Murphy will do something like Nutty Professor 3: Hell Yeah I’m In a Fat Suit Again … Now Pay Me! or Eddie Murphy Plays Tennis at Summer Camp With Kids While Screaming a Lot. Either way, I’m done looking forward to Murphy’s future efforts. Until he starts picking good scripts again, he’s on his own.