What happened to zany, delightful Jim Carrey who enchanted audiences as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”? He’s paired with penguins now - and they steal the show.
Thomas Popper (Carrey) is a hotshot Manhattan broker who is far more interested in dealing with commercial real estate than his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino), teenage daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll) and young son Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Popper’s up for a partnership if he can acquire the prestigious Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park from its longtime owner, Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury).
Meanwhile, Popper receives a posthumous present from his poppa, a peripatetic explorer who sent gifts rather than spending time with his son. It’s an insulated wooden crate containing a live Gentoo penguin, followed by an additional passel of waddling penguins who wreak disorderly poop-squirting havoc in the posh duplex that Popper gradually transforms into a wintry wonderland while Charlie Chaplin cavorts on TV. Predictably, as the birds breed and his penguin-pet relationship progresses (utilizing Carrey’s clowning propensity for physicality), Popper feels parental guilt, prioritizing reconciling with his family.
Loosely based on the 1938 children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, it’s coyly scripted by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern and conventionally directed by Mark Walters (“Mean Girls,” “Freaky Friday”). Collectively, they’re responsible for one of the most annoying and perturbing characters ever invented for the screen: Popper’s perky assistant, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), who peppers every sentence with alliterative p-words.
There’s amusement as the penguins create chaos sliding down the spiral slope at a Guggenheim Museum charity gala and a sad reminiscence for those familiar with the legendary, landmark Tavern on the Green, whose trees were wrapped in twinkling lights. The glorious décor of the glass-enclosed Crystal Room, as pictured, was sold at auction in a bankruptcy wake in December, 2009, and the once-glamorous property is now a visitor’s information center/gift shop, selling t-shirts and hats.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is a flimsy, feathered 5, a blandly formulaic, forgettable film.