Mr. Popper’s Penguins (PG)
Comedians like Jim Carrey should heed the danger signs: working with animals generally means the career is on the skids. Think Robin Williams in Jumanji, Eddie Murphy in Dr. Dolittle and Steve Martin in, well, pretty much anything since Bowfinger.
Now it’s Carrey’s turn, and it occurs via a 73-year-old story and several penguins. The inspiration behind the movie is a 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater that has become a beloved classic. This New Yorkified update sees workaholic real estate shark Tom Popper (Carrey) rediscovering his life, his wife, his kids and his love of animals when he is presented with the birds as a gift by his father, an explorer.
It’s a one-joke film buoyed up by Carrey’s interplay with the birds – variously named Loudy, Stinky, Nimrod et al – as they systematically take over his world. Soon Popper has gone off the rails and turned his spacious apartment into a sub-zero haven where his flightless pals can indulge themselves.
Sub-plots aside – and there are several; his re-connection with wife and kids, his battles with senior management and his mission to buy out an elderly millionairess who owns a genteel cafe on land considered prime real estate – this is all about pratfall comedy and penguin poop.
Carrey and director Mark Waters are clever enough to bring in numerous references to Charlie Chaplin, and momentarily the movie is better for them. But at 49 Carrey needs to be doing more than vapid kids’ flicks to sustain a 30-year career. The trademark gurning is still in evidence but the edge has gone out of his performances. This one is just lame.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins is about easing back, doing less, avoiding stress and having fun. Think Pretty Woman with penguins instead of Julia Roberts. All that will be wasted on children who will be desperate to see Carrey pecked at or pooped on.