‘IF’ review: With imaginary friends like these, you don’t need enemies

‘IF’ review: With imaginary friends like these, you don’t need enemies
movie review


Running time: 104 minutes. Rated PG (thematic elements and mild language.) In theaters.

John Krasinski has written, directed and stars in a new movie about imaginary friends. 

And, I suspect, rammed into his own imagination are the films “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “The Sixth Sense.”

Because he has put all of them in a blender with Ryan Reynolds and created “IF,” a schmaltzy family flick that makes less sense the more you think about it.

“IF” is nice enough, sure. Cloyingly so. But, just as in life, nice only gets you so far. A whole movie can’t hang on desperate “aww”s forcibly pried out of audience members mouths by talking inanimate objects.

And yet.

Should you be wondering what the two-letter title means, don’t worry — the CGI characters flat-out tell you. 

“Imaginary Friends, or IFs,” an Art Deco Minnie Mouse named Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) says to 12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming). 

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Adds fuzzy, bulbous Blue (Steve Carell): “Also, like, ‘What if?!’ Like anything’s possible!”

A dead ringer for the Grimace, he’s not the wittiest of figments.

Bea (Cailey Fleming) meets Blue (voiced by Steve Carell), an imaginary friend. AP

Blossom and Blue are a pair of annoying IFs — and toy store merch just waiting to be sold — and Bea discovers she can mysteriously see and communicate with them.

Bea’s mother died of cancer when she was little, which is shown in a sad (some might say manipulative) opening sequence reminiscent of Pixar’s “Up.” Adding to the anguish, her prankster dad (Krasinski) is now in the hospital to have surgery for a “broken heart.” 

Needless to say, all of this early trauma has made Bea grow up fast. She’s deeply serious and averse to games and clowning around.

But returning to the place where she spent her formative younger years, a Brooklyn Heights apartment with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw), unlocks a dormant spirt of adventure and playfulness in her — and a magical ability to talk to giant purple bears.

Cal (Ryan Reynolds) can also see imaginary friends — just like Bea (Fleming) can. AP

Up till now, the movie is amiably routine. Then, in a super creepy choice, the pre-teen starts sneaking out of her home to pal around New York with Ryan Reynolds.

A 12-year-old girl and a 47-year-old male stranger. What could possibly go right?

His character Cal can also spot the imaginary friends, and he ropes in Bea to help find out-of-work IFs new lonely kids, and renewed purpose. 

“A matchmaking agency,” they call it. “IFs, Inc.,” I call it.

From here, Krasinski interprets the endless creative possibilities of one’s inner child as an excuse for total randomness.

I’m no fan of helicopter parenting, but I was rather perplexed seeing Bea venture off to Coney Island in the middle of the day with Cal, an adult man, to visit a retirement home for IFs oddly situated under the Wonder Wheel.

The group starts a “matchmaking agency” to pair out-of-work IFs with new children. AP

Inside the facility, they find a talking ice cube, a cat wearing a grease-stained T-shirt watching “Judge Judy,” and a banana leading a water aerobics class.

Is that supposed to be what childhood is?

Who the hell has fond, repressed, pivotal memories of a block of frozen water?

A ton of A-List stars make cameos as other IFs there. George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Blake Lively, Emily Blunt, Sam Rockwell, Jon Stewart, Maya Rudolph and Brad Pitt all voice various silly creatures.

I couldn’t tell who they were 95% of the time.

Whenever we feel something during “IF,” it’s usually due to composer Michael Giacchino’s buoyant, heart-tugging score with a catchy hook. He’s remarkably skilled at mining emotion out of music, as he proved in the TV show “Lost,” “Up” and many other projects over the years.

Blossom (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) looks like an Art Deco Minnie Mouse. AP

The flesh-and-blood actors aren’t bad, either. Fleming and Reynolds are a sweet duo, while Shaw makes a meal of a saltine.

Regardless, the role of the IFs in the plot is terribly confusing, especially what they mean to the stressed-out older characters.

For example, Blue helps his now-grown-up partner find confidence before a corporate meeting by grabbing his shoulders. Huh? Turns out all he needed was a massage from Muzzy.

I’ll give credit to Krasinski for endeavoring to deliver a new, if derivative, story. He’s not made a loathsome movie, really, but forgettable mush. The whole time I rooted for him to find some logic and clarity.

His imagination could use an editor.