Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Yara Shahidi
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”)
Written by: Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”)

Eddie Murphy throws us for a loop with “Imagine That,” a comedy that is not half bad when compared to the movies he’s been offering up over the last few years including “Meet Dave,” “Norbit,” and “Daddy Day Care.”

Still, if something is not half bad, it’s only logical that it’s not half good either. While Murphy shows us some signs of life, it’s not enough to resuscitate the entire picture from a slow and exasperating crawl to the finish line.

In “Imagine That,” Eddie Murphy plays Evan, a stock market guru who is working hard to land a promotion at his financial company. A problem arises, however, when his coworker rival John Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a pseudo-Indian philosopher, makes a few better investments than Evan and is soon the trusted advisor to turn to by clients.

Along with the stresses at work, Evan is also getting an earful at home. Recently divorced, his ex-wife (Nicole Ari Parker) is constantly telling him how little time he is spending with his young daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi), an unusually creative little girl, who has learned to cope with her parents’ divorce by creating imaginary friends and clutching a security blanket a la Linus from the Peanuts gang. Too busy following the stock market, Evan doesn’t have time to listen to the gibberish that Olivia is communicating to him from her fantasy world.

But when it becomes evident that her nonsensical chattering is actually successful stock tips told to her by her imaginary friends, Evan finds a reason to devote some time to his daughter while simultaneously squeezing out as much financial information he can from an unorthodox source.

While Murphy and newcomer Shahidi are a natural fit to play a father-daughter duo, there’s a strong sense of moral ambiguity that is fairly bothersome throughout the film. Evan is clearly exploiting his daughter and there are no ways screenwriters Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) can get around that fact. Tying a bow around their relationship and calling it a gift at the final second doesn’t make everything that came before it disappear.

The growth of Murphy’s character is at best stagey. You want to believe he is a good father, but nothing in the film’s first 90 minutes gives you any inkling of that characteristic. By the end, Murphy is letting us hear what any family-film moviegoer would want. Real life isn’t as predictable as “Imagine That.” Although Murphy doesn’t totally strike out (with a lot of help from cutesy co-star Shahidi), it’s not the movie that is going to help repair the questionable comedic choices he’s made since his last great one, 1996’s “The Nutty Professor.”

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