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If you're lucky enough to attend an early screening of John Krasinski's new film, "IF," you may be greeted with a short introduction by the writer/director, asserting that the film is expressly for all the "girl dads" out there. Having now seen it, that much is true: despite its family-friendly brief, "IF" is less for kids than for the adults of kids -- the girl dads, if you will -- who want something that feels a little more mature than "Minions" but doesn't scare the kids away. Far from it; it might just bore them to tears.

It's a bold shift for Krasinski, who's already transitioned from sitcom lead to successful director with the "Quiet Place" series, and yet, looking at the man himself, it makes perfect sense. This is the guy who started a little feel-good news show from his house during the pandemic (that he then sold to ViacomCBS for a presumed truckload of money), after all. He's the kind of all-American aw-shucks new dad who dipped his toe into the horror genre, and now wants to make a fun movie that his children can watch. 

The results, such as they are, play out like a half-baked live-action adaptation of a Pixar picture, from the "Monsters, Inc"-like structure of the IF world and the dramedic coming-of-age tales of "Inside Out" and "Up." The opening credits even evoke "Up," playing gauzy home movies of the rhythms of a playful, happy family—with Krasinski as the patriarch—ostensibly shot by a DV camera but which looks suspiciously like grainy, professional-grade film stock. When films use this kind of device, only one thing can come -- death. Not just once but twice: When we catch up with Krasinski's daughter, Bea (Cailey Fleming), she's still in mourning over the offscreen death of her mother some time ago, which is now compounded by her father staying at the hospital awaiting heart surgery. (We're never privy to the details: he just says he has a "broken heart," which is a nifty case study for the film's simple, cloying nature.) The trauma clearly eats away at her, despite Krasinski's quirked-up, obnoxious attempts to cheer her up in the hospital room. 

In the meantime, Bea stays with her equally effervescent grandmother (Fiona Shaw, one of the film's highlights) at her old, creaky apartment building. It's while there that she suddenly develops the ability to see people's imaginary friends (or IFs, as the film so proudly dubs them), and gets looped into an adventure involving her grandmother's downstairs neighbor, the cynical IF whisperer Calvin (Ryan Reynolds). You see, he's been running a kind of matchmaking service for IFs whose kids have stopped believing in them; once they do, you usually get put out to pasture in a kind of pastel retirement home. Bea, eager for something to do (and believe in), sets herself to the task of helping Calvin save the IFs by giving them someone to believe in them.

That's the loose framework upon which Krasinski's paper-thin script rests, one that gestures broadly at a kind of mechanical worldbuilding but soon throws its hands up in the air and greedily chases one heartstring after another. For a kid's adventure, it's surprisingly dour and sentimental, chucking laugh-out-loud jokes for a patient sense of melancholy. That may work well for the young dads in the audience, but it's gotta bore kids to tears. 

Its early stretches see Krasinski using the suspenseful eye he developed during "A Quiet Place" to fascinating kid-horror effect: Janusz Kaminski shoots the winding staircase of grandma's apartment like it's the Overlook Hotel, and one early spooky moment shows us a kid's-eye view of how creepy a strange old woman leering at you in the hallway can be. There's something of Guillermo del Toro's more sentimental work in some of these moments, building a world where imagination can be just as much a threat as comfort. 

But then we get to the IFs and their dilemma, where most of "IF" loses its steam. The creatures themselves are hardly much to write home about: they take whatever form their kids conceived, from fire-breathing dragons to walking, talking, self-roasting marshmallows, all voiced by a murderer's row of "that guy" guest voices that'll leave you reaching for your phone to pull up IMDb right after. 

Sure, they're technically impressive to look at, but they're bereft of character or whimsy. That's especially true for the film's central IF, Blue (Steve Carell), a purple, snaggle-toothed furball resembling the Grimace as subjected to years of British dentistry. Rather than play him with any kind of arched eyebrow, Carell gives a surprisingly workmanlike performance, a right shame given the verbal dexterity that lets him own wild animated characters like Gru. 

The human cast fares little better, especially Reynolds, who coasts through this thing with the half-hearted zeal of someone sick of repeating the same Deadpool schtick. It almost feels redundant to cast him here since he functions as a kind of stand-in for Krasinski as the "fun dad" he's always wanted to be; instead, Calvin exists primarily as a smarmy sidekick, a fellow cynic who nonetheless helps the IFs on their mission. Then there's Fleming herself, a waifish young girl who rises to the occasion in a few Big Moments near the end but who largely gets little to do besides pout and absorb information. 

The mechanics of the IFs also beggar belief and change on a dime depending on which lazy heartstring Krasinski wants to pull next. The script can't seem to decide how they really work: Do they disappear once forgotten about, or are they put in a home? Is the plan to rehome them to new kids, or get their now-grown adult companions to believe in them again? What's the plan from there? All immaterial questions for the presumed kiddie audience, but it's easy to get lost in the shoddy mechanics of the thing when the product as is is this listless and humorless. By the end, you get the distinct feeling that all of this sturm und drang is in service to stakes that, all told, are exceedingly minimal. 

Occasionally, Krasinski lands on a neat idea or a perfect scene: A kaleidoscopic chase through an IF retirement home that Bea is changing with her imagination (complete with Busby Berkeley riffs and Reynolds climbing through an oil painting); Shaw's character remembering her love of ballet while her former IF (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) dances alongside just out of sight. But for every one of these, we get another tired scene with half-hearted performers rotely asserting the plot, or trotting out cloying platitudes like "The most important stories we tell are the ones we tell ourselves." That's to say nothing of the film's musical choices, the last of which is so on-the-nose, so egregious, that Wes Anderson should sue for plagiarism. 

"IF" is a well-intentioned misfire—a kid's movie without laughs and a parent's movie without purpose. I sure hope Krasinski had a ball making it; it seemed like a welcome balm after the stressors of doing two horror pictures. But now, it's time to put away childish things.

Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Staff Writer for Consequence. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and Critics Choice Association. You can also find his byline at RogerEbert.com, Vulture, The Companion, FOX Digital, and elsewhere. 

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Film Credits

IF movie poster

IF (2024)

Rated PG

104 minutes

Cast

Ryan Reynolds as Cal

John Krasinski as Bea's Dad / Marshmallow (voice)

Cailey Fleming as Bea

Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Blossom (voice)

Louis Gossett Jr. as Lewis (voice)

Steve Carell as Blue (voice)

Fiona Shaw as Grandmother

Director

Writer

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