'Imagine That' **½
The fact that every tip from Olivia's imaginary friends proves true makes Evan a sensation at the workplace, much to the chagrin of his office rival Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a Native American who aggressively brings chants and tribe-speak into company meetings.
“The guy, he’s a fraud. … He’s so corny and so cheesy,” Church said. “It’s just a sales tool for him.”
Striking the right tone for the character required some nimble line-walking. But Church said he has worked with American Indians actors before and talked with various tribal leaders while working on the film. in Denver. The studio even read American Indian actors for the part, though the characters Native roots ultimately prove rather shallow.
“I think if you were trying to accurately represent tribal tradition and the values that are important to them and you did it in a fraudulent, comedic, absurd way, I think they would probably take issue. But we don’t do that,” he said.
“As soon as I walk onscreen, the guy’s absurd, with the mullet, his jewelry and his presentation is just so overt. … I think it’s obvious what’s going on.
From the reviews, I don't get a sense that Church's character is immediately exposed and denounced as a fraud. Rather, it seems his office takes him seriously for most if not all of Imagine That. So the movie isn't mocking him, it's letting him mock Indians.
In the real world, people would challenge or reject someone who looked and acted like a wannabe. But in Imagine That, people are so ignorant that they follow the obvious phony. The problem isn't so much that Whitefeather is a fraud, it's that no one realizes he's a fraud.
Note that the producers thought about casting a real Native actor before going with Church. We don't know if they rewrote the role for Church, but this is suggestive. It suggests they conceived the character as a real Indian with comical beliefs. At least initially, they planned to satirize and mock the beliefs, not the character expressing them.
Let's sum it up. Give Imagine That a point for using an Indian character in a modern office setting. Subtract a point for casting the non-Native Church in a Native role. Subtract another point for the "Indian's" stereotypical New Age chants and tribe-speak. Net result: Negative one point. Imagine that.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.