A successful financial executive (Eddie Murphy) who has more time for his blackberry than his seven-year-old daughter (Yara Shahidi). When he has a crisis of confidence and his career starts going down the drain, however, he finds the solution to all his problems in his daughter’s imaginary world.

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Eddie Murphy phones it in,  again.

When will Eddie Murphy snap?

Like a car crash that hasn’t yet happened, I watch his movies now mainly because the sense of pain, both for Murphy and someone who has followed his career, is so distinct that you can’t help but wonder when he’ll have had enough. Here he is, in commercial terms one of the dozen true greats of the movie business, and he’s living in exile on the screen, either hidden as a voice in animated fare such as the Shrek series or plastered into child-friendly fare, of which Imagine That is the latest.

Has a bigger movie star ever been so emasculated whilst nominally remaining a success? The Eddie Murphy of 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop – young, aggressive, cocksure and profanely funny – is no longer allowed in films. He’s either hidden inside a fat suit, as one of the Nutty Professor franchise’s Klumps, or straitjacketed into a kid flick. Like a W.C. Fields nightmare, he’s the preserve of children and animals (the Doctor Doolittle remakes).

The subtext of Murphy’s kid-friendly flicks is that he has no control: in Norbit he played a dweeb, while Meet Dave had him as a dysfunctional robot. For Karey Kirkpatrick’s mildly asinine feature he’s Evan Danielson, a Denver-based business analyst who has put work ahead of his separated wife and young daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi). Finally he realises that the imaginary friends that come with her security blanket are full of wisdom about the financial markets, bonding father and daughter for the wrong reasons and setting up a lesson to be learnt

To Kirkpatrick’s credit, he doesn’t give us a sickly sweet imaginary landscape. The point of the story is that Evan has to satisfy his daughter, who gently plays the puppeteer, re-introducing him to the pleasures of playtime while embarrassing him publicly as he seeks favour with the unseen queens and princesses that populate Olivia’s imagination. He has to dance in public and wear the blanket on his head, enduring minor indignities for the sake of a good stock tip.

It’s not as if Murphy is particularly energised by the experience: the film is littered with his old shtick, from The Klumps’ fussy middle-aged indignation to the ancient James Brown routine from Saturday Night Live that Murphy already reworked for Dreamgirls in 2007. He’s going through the motions.

The film, which is not a patch on Kirkpatrick’s previous effort, the 2006 animated assault on consumer culture, Over the Hedge, works slightly better as a commentary on the modern financial system. Evan’s office rival is Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), who masks his business strategies in Native American symbolism.

Evan and Johnny, with their magic blanket and spirit guides respectively, are figures of fun, but the film – nominally seen through the eyes of a child – suggests that there’s no better explanation for how the financial industry works, or how it self-destructed a year ago. If these two can get ahead, you wonder, what were the people like that invented and manufactured the toxic assets that nearly destroyed the world’s economy?