‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’ doesn’t fly

Jim Carrey seems to have taken a mid-career snooze. Of the few comedic films that he does still appear in, they simply can’t compare to his earlier laugh-fests like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber or The Cable Guy.

His latest flick is Mr. Popper’s Penguins, a family movie based on the successful novel by Richard and Florence Atwater. The premise is improbable, but wholehearted.

Carrey plays the title character, a man hellbent on escalating to the top of the New York City real estate world. Think Donald Trump, minus the comb-over. His company’s higher-ups have given him a lucrative challenge to prove that he has what it takes to be an executive: Can he secure the deed for the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park? It’s the only privately-held real estate in the leafy expanse, and the company wants it real bad.

Up for the challenge, Popper begins to woo the aging owner of the restaurant, Mrs. Van Gundy, played by the wonderfully memorable Angela Lansbury. But before she budges on the sale, Van Gundy needs to find out what type of person Popper is with his family and friends. She will only sell to a proper gentleman.

In the family department, Popper is a pooper. He’s divorced from Amanda (the gorgeous, but miscast, Carla Gugino) and has few moments to enjoy the company of his kids. He hasn’t seen or heard from his own father, a world-traveling explorer, in ages, and it seems that his swank apartment with a killer view of the Manhattan skyline is more important than any relationship he has in life.

Enter the penguins to this humdrum affair.

Popper’s father dies while exploring the South Pole and leaves his son a gift of six penguins. Why? That’s never really answered in the 94-minute film. The penguins simply arrive on Popper’s doorstep, and he accepts them with many complaints, but few questions.

Of course, whenever wild animals enter the fray in a family film, the antics meter skyrockets. There are several funny sequences with the CGI birds, but much of the humor is of the “fart or cutesy mishap” order. Nothing involving the penguins hasn’t been done a million times before with other animals on the big screen.

This being a family-friendly film, it’s not much of a surprise when Popper sees the error of his ways and tries to rekindle a relationship with his family. All of this wholesomeness takes place to the tune of the squawking penguins.

The film, directed by Mark Water and written by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern, never rises above a trite distraction. The humor is pushed and the plot borders on insane (even for a kids film).

Carrey is likable, and he can play this part with his hands tied behind his back. But perhaps that is one of the reasons why Mr. Popper’s Penguins fails. Carrey has done this role several times before. In Liar, Liar, he is a father who needs to focus more time on his divorced wife and son. In Bruce Almighty, he plays a man obsessed with his job and not his girlfriend.

Where is the Jim Carrey of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Heck, I’d take the Jim Carrey of A Series of Unfortunate Events or A Christmas Carol.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, with the sole exception of a wonderful performance from Lansbury, is a stinker. It means well, but ultimately means nothing.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins

  • 2011

  • Directed by Mark Waters

  • Written by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern

  • Starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Clark Gregg, Jeffrey Tambor and David Krumholtz

  • Running time: 94 minutes

  • Rated PG for mild rude humor and some language

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

  • Click here to purchase Mr. Popper’s Penguins on DVD.

  • Click here to purchase Mr. Popper’s Penguins the book.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *