A 12-year-old girl whose mother has died confronts a series of what-ifs. What if she loses her father too? What if she can draw strength from imaginary friends – those apparitions of the mind who provide much-needed companionship and solace?

Upstairs neighbour Cal (Ryan Reynolds) beckons Bea (Cailey Fleming) into a parallel universe filled with imaginary friends of various shapes and sizes. These IFs include the giant soft toy Blue, an animatronic butterfly and a green blob. They have been forgotten by the children to whom they were once attached. Bea’s mission to reunite the imaginary friends with their humans has Cal’s reluctant, wisecracking support.

IF has been written and directed by John Krasinski, the actor who previously made A Quiet Place in 2018 and its 2020 sequel. Krasinski combines the animation and live-action formats to explore the power of the imagination as an emotional support tool in trying times.

Several big-name actors voice the IFs, from Steve Carell and Phoebe Waller-Bridge to Emily Blunt and Matt Damon. George Clooney and Bradley Cooper are somewhere there too. Janusz Kaminski is behind the camera, while Michael Giacchino has composed the music.

All the A-listers in the room can’t generate the magic needed to give flight to the movie’s themes. Krasinski’s ambitious screenplay is sluggish and untidy, with several patches of dull writing. The visual effects are barely up to the standard needed to create the feeling of being transported into a fantastical realm.

The lack of rigour extends to the cast. Even Ryan Reynolds struggles at times to liven up the confusing proceedings. Among the IFs, which are personifications of human needs and anxieties, only Steve Carell’s Blue is memorable.

“Look alive!” Cal admonishes Bea – advice that could have greatly helped IF too.

IF (2024).