‘Mr. Popper's Penguins'
Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Madeline Carroll, Angela Lansbury
Rated: PG for mild rude humor and some language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Bottom line: Formulaic, but fun.
"Mr. Popper's Penguins" is "a Jim Carrey movie." Not that there's anything wrong with that ...
Carrey has built an impressive body of work. Way back in 1998, "The Truman Show" proved he could do more than just physical comedy. Ever since then we have seen more and more of his range in "Man on the Moon," the outstanding "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "I Love You Phillip Morris," and others.
But despite all those challenging roles in respected movies, everyone still knows exactly what you mean if you describe a film as "a Jim Carrey movie."
Translation: A one-note comedy in which Carrey's character falls down a lot, mugs and overacts through every scene, and eventually learns something.
The one note in "Mr. Popper's Penguins" is played by six penguins.
Carrey is Mr. Popper, whose father was an explorer who spent very little time with him during his childhood. So grown up Mr. Popper has some big time resentment toward dad.
Not that Mr. Popper is a better father himself. He is a real estate broker consumed by his career. The elder Popper sought new lands to discover, but Mr. Popper is just as obsessed with buying up plots around Manhattan.
Popper is divorced from Amanda (Carla Gugino) and even when he sees his two children, Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), on alternating weekends, he is too distracted to forge tight bonds.
This is the same character Carrey played in "Liar, Liar," only Mr. Popper has two neglected kids rather than one, and he works in real estate rather than the law.
The partners at Mr. Popper's firm tell him that he'll become a partner if he can convince old money Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury) to sell the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant so they can tear it down and build a high rise of some sort.
Popper and his secretary Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), whose verbal tic will either delight or annoy you, set out to close the deal.
Popper's life is thrown into turmoil, though, when his father dies and leaves him six penguins.
At first Popper tries to get rid of the birds, which proves difficult (who do you call for penguin removal?). Eventually a zookeeper (Clark Gregg) with dubious intentions agrees to take them. But Popper decides to keep the penguins when his kids fall in love with them.
And so it goes: Popper must persuade Mrs. Van Gundy to sell Tavern on the Green, turn his Manhattan penthouse into a suitable habitat for the penguins, keep the zookeeper from snatching the birds, fend off his complaining neighbors, all while rebuilding relationships with his ex-wife and kids.
"Mr. Popper's Penguins" gives sharp-knived critics plenty to cut into. We've seen this movie many times, we know exactly how it's going to play out, there are too many penguin scat jokes, etc.
But watching the movie with my 6-year old made it just as obvious that none of those criticisms matter to the movie's target audience.
This is a good-natured movie with no violence, bad language or sexual content that will make young kids cackle and mildly entertain the parents, especially the dads.
It's being released on this particular weekend to provide a Father's Day outing.
Carrey reminds us how likeable he can be regardless of the merits of the story, and he gets great support from Gugino, Carroll, Lovibond and Gregg, as well as small roles by Jeffrey Tambor, David Krumholtz, Philip Baker Hall and Dominic Chianese.
This is a good New York movie, too, filmed on locations that include the Guggenheim Museum, the Flatiron Building and Tavern on the Green.
The movie also deserves a bit of credit for what it doesn't do with the penguins. They don't talk or sing, and they only dance once.
You won't remember "Mr. Popper's Penguins a month from now, but your kids will enjoy all 95 minutes of it.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.