Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oh, No Way I'm Seeing That: "Imagine That"

Welcome to “Oh, No Way I’m Seeing That,” a regular feature in which we’ll take a look at a trailer for an upcoming film, and then examine exactly why there’s absolutely no way I’ll be seeing the advertised film. In this edition: Eddie Murphy’s newest family “comedy”, “Imagine That.”



There was a time when there wasn’t an Eddie Murphy film that I’d miss; Trading Places and Coming to America remain two of the best comedies of the 1980s, 48 HRS. and Beverly Hills Cop among its most enjoyably trashy action/comedies. Boomerang looked like a strong start to the 90s, but Murphy started grinding out pictures of lower and lower quality. The Nutty Professor was, in many ways, the best and worst thing that ever happened to him—best, in that it was a much-needed hit (and, I still maintain, a genuinely funny and entertaining movie), and worst, in that it showed Murphy that he could tamp down his aggressive persona and four-letter vocabulary and score big box office by catering to the PG and PG-13 market.

His last starring role worth a damn was in Steve Martin’s Bowfinger; since then his filmography has included such garbage as Pluto Nash, I Spy, Daddy Day Care, Showtime, The Haunted Mansion, and the loathsome Norbit, a film so unifying in its badness that many believe it cost Murphy a perhaps-deserved Academy Award for his restrained, fully-realized performance in Dreamgirls. Did he learn from the positive notices he received for his mature work in that film for grown-ups? Hardly. He followed it up with the belly-flop Meet Dave and now, well, this.

Aside from the inanity of the concept and the sure-to-be saccharine themes, there’s one element of Imagine That which is worth examining. While reading Drew McWeeny’s lacerating review of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian over at Motion/Captured (click it, it’s a good read), I came upon this paragraph:

“One of the reasons I intensely disliked the first film was because it fell into one of the forms that I hate most in commercial films these days: a hard-working father encounters some magical hoo-haw that teaches him that all that hard work he's doing to provide for his family ACTUALLY means he's a giant asshole. Because in today's economy, with job definitions changing as radically as they do all the time, god forbid we portray someone who actually works hard as a good person or a decent character. Nope. Work = neglectful asshole. That's Hollywood, for you, where people routinely work 60 hour weeks. Talk about self-loathing writ large, eh? It seems like every comic has made at least one of these movies. "Liar Liar." "Evan Almighty." "Bedtime Stories." "Click." "Imagine That." I know I'm missing a hundred easy examples, but for the most part, I reject those films and their empty, stupid moralizing, and I try to forget them completely as quickly as possible. I think it's a rotten, corrupt theme, built on a lie, and the films turn out to be built on some inane plot mechanic ("Wow, I'm glad we got this magic wristwatch that lets us turn back time!") and crammed full of gooey phony sentiment."

Drew’s a smarter guy than I am, because I had never really stopped to examine this construct. But it is a tiresome one. And it will be interesting to see if his point about the effect of the recession on these types of films is a salient one; in a country where nearly every week, men are literally killing their families and then themselves because they can’t provide for them, maybe having a father who works hard to provide isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a kid.

As for Eddie Murphy, well, there is hope: He’s reportedly working on a Richard Pryor biopic with his Dreamgirls director, Bill Condon. I have hope for this project; Murphy idolized Pryor when he was growing up and becoming a comic, and his Pryor impression in Eddie Murphy: Raw (a film so removed from the current incarnation of “Eddie Murphy” that it feels like it stars a completely different human being) is spot-on. I just hope he doesn’t decide to tone down the f-words into “filth flarn filths” so they don’t have to part with those PG-13 dollars.

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