RATING |

Imagine That, a family comedy about a workaholic Dad who finds that fatherhood is as rewarding as finance, reminded me of how funny Eddie Murphy is without a fat suit or flatulence gags.

Murphy is the buttoned-down Evan, a Denver securities analyst so preoccupied at the firm that he forgets to pick up Olivia, his 6-year-old daughter, on custody days.

Yara Shahidi, wide-eyed and adorable, is Olivia. She brings out in Murphy what's been missing from films such as Norbit - spontaneous play. Shahidi's and Murphy's scenes together have such warmth, tenderness, and joy that they elevate this cookie-cutter comedy into homemade fun.

Evan has two problems. One: Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), his Native American colleague, is aiming to steal his clients. Two: Olivia, upset by the estrangement of her parents, will not surrender her security blanket at school, where she talks more with her imaginary friends than her real ones.

In this gentle fantasy from director Karey Kirkpatrick (who wrote the screenplay for the recent Charlotte's Web), it may be that Olivia's imaginary friends are crack stock analysts. And that her security blanket is a "securities blanket" - a magic cloth accurately predicting market outcomes.

Thankfully, the fantasy elements are implicit rather than explicit; the movie is not an inventory of special effects, like the recent Bedtime Stories. Thus the audience, like Evan, accepts what Olivia says on faith.

The daddy/daughter sequences are wonderful, particularly a scene in which Evan teaches Olivia how to sing without really singing. Less successful is the corporate one-upmanship, though when Evan and Whitefeather fight each other, it has the feel of the schoolyard.

While Imagine That falls short of its feel-good aim, its feel-nice vibe is a good Father's Day diversion for Dads and their spawn.EndText

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/

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