'Imagine That' (Paramount / Nickelodeon)

Why do bad movies happen to good people? Eddie Murphy gives a very warm, very funny performance as a stressed-out financial executive trying to be a better parent to his seven-year-old daughter in Imagine That, which opened wide today. Evan Danielson is a gentler variation on the wholesome paternal figures he's previously played in Doctor Dolittle, Daddy Day Care, and The Haunted Mansion. In those roles, he's portrayed successful workaholics who've neglected their families to varying degrees.

He was beset by talking animals in Doctor Dolittle and its sequel, by a flock of other people's children in Daddy Day Care, and by ghosts in The Haunted Mansion. In contrast, Imagine That is much more intimate. Evan is beset by only two people: his daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi), resentful of his neglect, puts a baby blue blanket on her head and talks to a group of imaginary friends; meanwhile, his fellow financial executive Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church) trades on his Native American heritage to compete with Evan and steal his clients.

The film springs to life only at rare moments, which are surrounded by so much fatty tissue that you fear the movie will die of a heart attack before it huffs and puffs it way to the end credits. By "fatty tissue," I mean deadly dull exposition and endless set-ups for jokes that really aren't that funny. Though Imagine That extols the imagination and intelligence of young Olivia, and is clearly pitched to children under the age of 10, it does its audience no favors by constantly S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G O-U-T.