Based loosely -- verrrry loosely -- on the beloved children's book of the same name, Mr. Popper's Penguins is a tame Jim Carrey family comedy about a divorced dad who needs to be taught the lesson about what's really important in life.
In this only occasionally amusing entry, he plays Tom Popper, a real-estate shark who specializes in buying hot properties in Manhattan for his cagey, aging bosses. After securing the Flatiron Building from a guy who doesn't want to sell, Popper is given one final task by his bosses: Buy Tavern on the Green from its aging owner (Angela Lansbury) so they can tear it down and building something huge and shiny. If he succeeds at this quest, they'll make him a partner.
As we see in the film's early going, Popper has daddy issues. Dad was some sort of explorer who communicated with Tom by ham radio from around the globe but was seldom around when it counted. Now Tom is a divorced dad of two, a frequently absentee father who still has a crush on his ex-wife (a criminally underemployed Carla Gugino).
Popper gets a call that his father has died and left him something in his will. It turns out to be a crate containing a live penguin. In short order, five more flightless fowl arrive, taking up residence in Popper's penthouse to Popper's chagrin.
Then, just as he's ready to get rid of the birds, his kids show up for his weekend of custody -- and his son thinks the penguins are for him. So when the guy from the Central Park Zoo arrives to take possession of the penguins, Popper sends him away and turns his luxe penthouse into a frigid penguin habitat.
Theoretically, hilarity ensues. In fact, the laughs, such as there are, are mild and sparse, most having to do with penguin flatulence, clumsiness and just plain peskiness. Inevitably, Popper develops his own protectively familial sense about the birds, which endears him to his semi-estranged children and ex-wife. What else do you expect?
If Carrey is less manic than you anticipate, he's also a lot less funny. But that may be a problem of the writing, which is thin at best. So is the direction: The last film on director Mark Waters' resume was the dreadful Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
How thin is the script? Imagine penguins sledding on their stomachs down a slurry of spilled ice buckets on the spiral gallery of the Guggenheim Museum in the middle of a black-tie charity event. If that sounds like a lot of laughs, then you're either a six-year-old or the ideal adult audience member for this movie.
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