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Review: A Sweet, Funny Eddie Murphy Film?

Fans of Eddie Murphy's previous gigs as an overworked professional who rediscovers his family through supernatural intervention will find nothing unfamiliar as the comic Dr. Doolittles his way through "Imagine That."

The film opens this Friday.

This time, Murphy low-keys it as Evan Danielson, a financial exec who learns that when his daughter's imaginary friends speak, he'd better listen.

Evan, you see, is gearing up for a big promotion when his estranged wife (Nicole Ari Parker) asks him to take daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi) for a week. It's clear Evan wants to be a good dad, but his parenting skills could use a lot of work, particularly when it comes time to separate the girl from her beloved security blanket.

He has second thoughts about that when Olivia lets him in on a secret: The blanket is a doorway to a magical kingdom where the royal family has remarkable insight into things like derivatives and corporate mergers. And director Karey Kirkpatrick's plot is now on track for Predictable City.

If you think it's hilarious when Murphy mugs and dances and sings in falsetto to earn the favor of tip-dispensing princesses, well, you can have my share of the laughs. If not, at least Murphy doesn't wear a fat suit.

But the actor's scenes with movie daughter Shahidi have an undeniable sweetness, and Shahidi is adorable in a role that easily could have seemed manipulative.

Thomas Haden Church, meanwhile, lubes up as unctuous corporate rival Johnny Whitefeather, who awes the clients with New Agey, Native American-ish hoo-ha, and Martin Sheen drops by to play a finance wizard. (Enjoy the new boat, Mr. Sheen.)

It's all very light and silly and not particularly memorable. But save for one unusually leaden scene in which a group of kids led by junior extortionist Bobb'e J. Thompson pelt Murphy in a ball pit (that the screening audience didn't so much as titter restores my faith in humanity), there's not a mean or crude bone in this body. This from an industry that has come to equate fart jokes with family comedy. Imagine that!

Rated PG for mild language and questionable behavior.

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