The words " Eddie Murphy family comedy" are enough to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting film lover.
Between " Meet Dave," "The Haunted Mansion" and "Daddy Day Care," he doesn't exactly have the greatest track record with this genre, at least in terms of quality (box-office success can be an entirely different and often baffling phenomenon).
Which is what makes "Imagine That" such a pleasant surprise.
It's based on a clever premise and it makes good use of Murphy's comic strengths without letting him go overboard and get too obnoxious. Its feel-good revelations are predictable, yes, but it only really turns sappy toward the very end. And it offers an irresistible young co-star in newcomer Yara Shahidi, who holds her own as Murphy's daughter without being too cutesy or cloying.
Murphy stars as Evan Danielson, a financial executive who barely has time for his 7-year-old, Olivia. Estranged from his wife (Nicole Ari Parker), Evan is stuck watching Olivia for a few days but has no idea what to do with her, so he ignores her and instead focuses on his computer screens and constant phone calls. But she pays attention to everything he says and does - and so do the princesses, Olivia's trio of imaginary friends.
Somehow, the princesses come up with advice on which stocks Daddy should buy and sell - and somehow, they're always right. When Evan finally gives in and starts following their suggestions, he becomes a superstar at work - and, naturally, learns to loosen up at home and have a little fun with his daughter in the process.
What happens when he's pressured to choose between an important work meeting and Olivia's school concert is pretty obvious, but until then the movie is far more enjoyable than you would imagine.
PLOT Workaholic dad bonds with his daughter.
CAST Eddie Murphy, Yara Shahidi, Thomas Haden Church
PLAYING AT Area theaters: Find showtimes and tickets.
BOTTOM LINE Surprisingly endearing.