'IF' review: John Krasinski's imaginary friends star in a sweet kid flick Imagine that imaginary friends were real. Now imagine that IF director John Krasinski and star Ryan Reynolds convinced A-list pals to voice them.


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'IF' only! These imaginary friends are sweet, but could have been so much more

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Later this summer, the third installment of John Krasinski's horror film franchise "A Quiet Place" will use noise-triggered monsters to scare the yell out of audiences. But this weekend finds the filmmaker in a gentler mood. Critic Bob Mondello says Krasinski's family film, called "IF," brings the sweetest possible monsters to life - children's imaginary friends.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: What if I told you - no, wait. I'll let Ryan Reynolds do this part.


RYAN REYNOLDS: (As Cal) What if I told you, imaginary friends are real?



MONDELLO: If you were 12-year-old Bea, you'd faint. But in fairness, she's dealing with a lot. She's staying with her grandma while her dad's in the hospital for surgery. So finding a giant plush monster and a life-size ballerina doll in the apartment upstairs is a bit startling, even if they turn out to be who they say they are.


CARELL: (As Blue) Every kid has one - had one.

CAILEY FLEMING: (As Bea) Had what?

CARELL: (As Blue) A friend.

FLEMING: (As Bea) An imaginary friend?

WALLER-BRIDGE: (As Blossom) IF - we say IF.

CARELL: (As Blue) Get it? Imaginary friend, but also like, what if? - like anything's plausible.

MONDELLO: Apparently, Bea is determined to be very grown-up for her dad, played by director John Krasinski. When she visits him at the hospital, he starts dancing with his IV pole and cracking jokes, and she has to tell him to dial things back a bit. As the film goes on, you may be tempted to echo that with regard to his directing, but things are certainly lively as the IFs explain that they've started...


WALLER-BRIDGE: (As Blossom) It's a matchmaking agency to help IFs find new kids.

CARELL: (As Blue) Or we just disappear.

FLEMING: (As Bea) I can help you.

REYNOLDS: (As Cal) How?

FLEMING: (As Bea) 'Cause I'm a kid.

MONDELLO: Bea's introduced to a whole lot of critters at an IF retirement home, where she auditions unicorns and dragons, a flaming marshmallow.


REYNOLDS: (As Cal) Don't look him in the eye.

FLEMING: (As Bea) Which one?

REYNOLDS: (As Cal) You know d*** well which one.

MONDELLO: He's kind of melting.


JOHN KRASINSKI: (As Marshmallow) Thanks for doing this. It really means a whole lot.

REYNOLDS: (As Cal) Yeah, that's going to grow right back.

MONDELLO: All of which gives Krasinski an excuse to call in an army of digital animators - first for imaginary critters voiced by such A-list pals as George Clooney, Awkwafina, John Stewart, the late Louis Gossett Jr. and Steve Carell...


CARELL: (As Blue) I need a throw up, or I need a snack. It's one of the two.

MONDELLO: ...And then for their surroundings, which morph and flip as if they were just so many pixels when Cailey Fleming's Bea starts reimagining them. At which point, I started wanting something solid to hold onto, like, say, a plot that makes sense...


FLEMING: (As Bea) What is happening?

MONDELLO: ...Or even just that holds still. At first, we're supposed to be linking IFs to new kids, and then we're linking them to their now-grown-up original kids.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Question - why did these kids forget about us in the first place?

MONDELLO: That is an interesting question or would be if the film were interested in answering questions.


REYNOLDS: (As Cal) What kind of kid creates an invisible IF?

MONDELLO: Actually, it does answer that one, but mostly it detours, decorates and digitizes its story rather than telling it, which doesn't mesh with Dad's surgery and other real-world notions. And yeah, I know "IF" is a kid flick, but it still needs grounding. We're in Brooklyn, not Willy Wonka land.


REYNOLDS: (As Cal) What are you doing?

CARELL: (As Blue) Hup, hup, hup, hup, hup (ph).

REYNOLDS: (As Cal) Don't do this.

CARELL: (As Blue) Hup, hup, hup, hup, hup, hup (ph).

REYNOLDS: (As Cal) No, no, no, no, no.

CARELL: (As Blue, sneezing loudly).

MONDELLO: Also, star voices or no, "IF's" IFs feel generic, especially when they're stealing focus from Grandma, who, I mean, seriously, if you have actress Fiona Shaw on screen, you don't need special effects. Krasinski knows that. There's a moment where Bea puts a ballet record on the turntable, and Grandma stands bathed in twilight at a window, remembering the dancer she was as a child. And as the music rises, her right hand does, too, just so.


MONDELLO: And you realize all the other things Krasinski's sweet, little kid flick might have been, if only. I'm Bob Mondello.


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