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Nature is Abused By Jim Carrey in ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’

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CHICAGO – Pity the poor penguin making pictures. Their wings cannot fly, they have no script approval or agents, just a trainer bribing them with food to hit the mark. Their presence, their cuteness, even their flightlessness are exploited for a dreadful Jim Carrey film called “Mr Popper’s Penguins.” Somebody call PETA.

Jim Carrey as Mr. Popper is the head of a New York City family, who are best described as schizophrenically insane. Somehow penguins figure in the story, which has no heart, soul or narrative center. It’s really just a sad circus parade of random, Jim Carrey-esque comic bits, clinging to the frayed and absurd premise that simply showing penguins being penguins is enough to sustain a feature film.

Mr. Popper is a typical movie Dad. He is wealthy, ambitious and somehow within that earning power and career determination managed to squeeze in a marriage and two kids. Naturally, he is divorced, but that is explained by his childhood. It seems his father abandoned him to go off on a series of worldly adventures, punctuated occasionally by a arbitrary visit or communication via ham radio. Popper simply doesn’t trust love.

His current dilemma involves the savory topic of property in the New York City. He represents a megalomaniac real estate firm, who wants to own all the landmarks in NYC (that warm fuzzy feeling is starting already). Central Park’s famed Tavern on the Green restaurant is their next target, owned by the ancient Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury). The slimy Mr. Popper is convinced he can convince the old bag to sell, especially when assisted by his key associate Pippa (Ophelia Lovibond), who has an annoying tendency to speak in sentences only using the letter P. Mrs. Van Gundy, however, only wants to sell to someone pure of heart or some such similar requirement that all New York City property owners have.

In the midst of all this, Popper gets some bad news. His absent father has passed away, and in his will arranges for a package to be sent. When Popper receives it, inside is a penguin! It doesn’t matter how the animal was shipped without dying, it’s a penguin! And through a series of nutty circumstances, five more penguins are sent! Despite that in the real world it would probably take one phone call to get rid of the flightless fowl, Popper decides to keep all of the birds. This surprises his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino) and the two kids (Maxwell Perry Cotton and Madeline Carroll) who regardless of their professed disgust over their father have a change of heart once they encounter the precious penguins.

Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) and Friends in ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’
Mr. Popper (Jim Carrey) and Friends in ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins’
Photo credit: © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

So while he is still working the real estate deal for no discernible reason and taking care of his new friends, Mr. Popper also must fend off a New York City zookeeper (Clark Gregg), who wants the penguins so he can trade them for other animals (apparently zoos are like pro baseball teams). With with all this going on, how will Popper squeeze in any number of his wacky rubber faces? He’s much too busy dancing with penguins.

This is based on a 1938 children’s book, and the mistake was placing it in a modern context as a vehicle for Jim Carrey. The divorced Dad seeking redemption has become a contemporary family film cliché. Popper’s family is used as a prop so Carrey can be with the penguins and have his hard heart melted while taking care of them. And why is that? It is never explained, the film just wants you to assume that penguins are the key to any heart being melted. And also the penguins have the power to reunite families of divorce, because since Dad is so caring about the birds, he can’t be all bad.

The penguins are real in some scenes, and appear as computer generated images in most others. This allows them to fart, flip, flop and of course do a choreographed dance with Carrey (hip-hop, naturally, this is what the kids like). Even a child watching this might wonder how a bird indigenous to Arctic climates might survive in a New York City apartment (no matter how fabulous the decor) and why the birds seem to be wacky on cue? Is this the way to teach about the animal kingdom?

The human performers don’t fare any better. Carla Gugino, such a memorable presence in such films as “Sin City,” goes full on in a domestic role as divorced Mom who may move to Africa (she has received a mysterious “grant”). She is supposed to hate Popper, then feel attracted to him again, then hate him again, and finally love him. New York City is full of psychiatrists, could someone please recommend one to Mrs. Popper? The kids are no better, shifting with the tides of their glee about the penguins. That’s another thing, no one seems the least bit surprised that Popper is caring for animals he knows nothing about. Yeah, just open a window and let the New York City winter in, that’ll work. Where is Homeland Security when you need them?

Angela Lansbury, probably hired to add some credibility to the proceedings, ends up dancing with Jim Carrey, much like the penguins but with no computer generation (I think). And familiar character actors like Jeffrey Tambor and Philip Baker Hall (miles away from “Magnolia”) again are mere props in Carreyland, even though they’ve proven themselves worthier than that. The paychecks must have been very stimulating.

Amanda (Carla Gugino), Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Jim Carrey in ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’
Amanda (Carla Gugino), Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Jim Carrey in ‘Mr Popper’s Penguins’
Photo credit: © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

Because it is a family film, there is within it the holy trinity of sure kid laughs – groin hits, farting and pooping. The penguins do most of it, but Carrey gamely takes it in the groin. Also there are many scenes that were obviously improvised through the fading comic “genius” of Jim Carrey, I can’t imagine what director Mark Waters went through when Jimbo made his suggestions. Like the old adage about war, Waters had to burn the movie to save Jim Carrey’s career.

The whole of Mr. Popper’s Penguins can be summed up by the names given to the birds by their keeper; Bitey, Loudy, Stinky, Lovey and Nimrod. Names so lazy it’s barely worth the energy to type them out. Much like the energy necessary to go to the movies, plunk down admission and watch this film. It’s not worth it.

”Mr. Popper’s Penguins” opens everywhere June 17th. Featuring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Landsbury, Jeffrey Tambor, Philip Baker Hall, Clark Gregg, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll and Ophelia Lovibond. Screenplay by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern, directed by Mark Waters. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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