Thursday, June 16, 2011
Review of MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS
Oh, Jim Carrey. What happened? It seems ever since he hit 40 (which was nine years ago!), he's been in sort of a mid-career crisis. Though he's done some great work, he's been insanely inconsistent with his film choices. BRUCE ALMIGHTY is probably his last straight out comedy that I enjoyed, and even that was slight. ETERNAL SUNSHINE was fantastic, NUMBER 23 was interesting, and I even thought his work as Scrooge was terrific. But his comedies have been lackluster (I'm looking at you, YES MAN).
His latest is an adaptation of a beloved kids book from the 30's, MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS. Carrey plays the title character, a hot shot businessman who doesn't have time for his two kids (even though he only gets them every other weekend). He resents his father for being away all the time traveling in the Arctic, and when he passes away, Popper just shrugs it off. But then he receives a large crate in the mail from his father, which has a Penguin inside. He tries to ship it back, but then 4 more arrive. Just as he's about to get rid of them, his kids come over and fall in love with the Penguins, so he lies and says that they are a present to his son. And his ex-wife doesn't seem to mind, which was weird. Before you can say "predictable cliche", Popper begins to reconnect with his kids and rekindle his relationship with his ex. Then there's a guy from the Zoo who wants to take the penguins away (which makes total sense, but he's made into a villain), and Popper must find a way to stop him, otherwise his family won't like him if he let's this happen (pretty shallow family).
Those expecting a faithful adaptation of the book are going to be horrified. This one isn't even based on the cliff notes, it's based off of the title only! Not one plot point is there from the original source. Now, that wouldn't bother me if the movie was good. But it's not. It's garbage! A big problem is the story structure. It's so generic, we've seen it many times before. In fact, it's pretty much like LIAR, LIAR, but with Penguins. The family scenes aren't established well, and Popper never becomes likable, but he never really becomes a character, thanks to Jim Carrey. Just like Eddie Murphy's IMAGINE THAT, all of the business stuff gets in the way of what could have been a touching family movie. Who cares if Popper makes his deal or not? Who cares if he tears down a restaurant for his business. There is too much time spent on this. They also try to give the penguins personalities by giving them names (Stinky, Captain, Lovey, Bitey, and... who cares), but you can never really tell them apart.
But is the movie funny? Not at all, really. If you think Penguins biting, dry humping, and pooping on people, then maybe you'll find it hilarious. But it's not. Speaking of pooping, there are way too many jokes of the bathroom variety. Sure, I laughed my ass off in DUMB & DUMBER when Jeff Daniels was shitting on the toilet, but seeing white crap coming out of a Penguin's butt numerous times throughout the film wasn't my idea of humor. In this movie, it's like they did it just to make the kids laugh. Jim Carrey also isn't very good in this, mainly because he's inconsistent. Sometimes he's very boring, as he just reacts to the penguins with uninspired facial expressions. And then sometimes he ad libs by doing dated humor (how many kids will know what he mean when he says, "Word!" like a rapper from 1992?). Even his "slow motion" schtick is tired here.
The supporting cast is not good, or should I say wasted. Carla Gugino is normally talented, but clueless here as Popper's ex. The extremely talented Madeline Carroll has nothing to do besides act like a Disney Channel teenager (and she's so much better than that. See FLIPPED and SWING VOTE for proof). Why would you have the talented Angela Lansbury and always reliable character actor Philip Baker Hall in your movie if you're going to give them empty characters to play? Clark Gregg is embarrassing as the "villain" trying to get the penguins to their proper environment. But the worst performance comes from David Krumholz as a noisy neighbor who wants to catch Popper doing something "eviction-worthy".
After stepping back and looking at everything, the story actually resembles one of those breezy live-action Disney films from the 60's and 70's, with the generic business plot and silly animals. But even though most of those films were insignificant, at least they were bright and colorful and had a bit of energy. This film just slogs through it's 94 minute run time. The best thing about this is that some of the penguin effects are pretty good. At times, I had a tough time making out what was practical and was was CG, so kudos goes to the effects team for blending those together fairly well.
There were maybe a couple of moments that some of the family bonding works and I liked the fact that the Penguins loved watching Charlie Chaplin (and it's always nice to see kids watching old silent films, since that rarely happens in real life). However, if you have kids, you should just rent some old Chaplin films and have a magical night at home, instead of seeing this drivel. The main reason why this film doesn't work is because of the tone, which was semi-realistic. This type of story needed to be told with lots of whimsy and a fairy tale attitude. But the attempts to modernize the tale date the movie even more. Even Carrey's hairstyle is stuck in 1997 (his looks are very out of touch with today, which would make sense if the film had a retro style, but it's trying to be modern)!
But will the kids like it? Hmmm. They might tolerate it. At my press screen full of kids, it was pretty quiet, except during the poop jokes. But there were alot of quiet spots, even during attempted humor. And if that doesn't convince you, check this out. After the screening, I asked my seven year old daughter what she thought, and she responded with: "It wasn't very good". And she likes everything! In fact, this was the first film she ever said that to. She did say that the penguins were cute, but that Jim Carrey wasn't very funny in this. And she knows he can be funny since I showed her DUMB & DUMBER the night before.
If you want to do you family a favor, avoid MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS and go see JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER instead. Would you rather see an uninspired comedy with poop jokes and forced family values, or would you rather see a movie that encourages imagination and is full of optimism? JUDY MOODY is the winner! Popper is just a pooper.
*1/2 (out of ****)