Just as I was old enough to go to the movies without my folks, Jim Carrey and his rubbery face were in the most quotable movies around: Mask, Ace Ventura. “Smokin’.” “Somebody stop me.” “All righty then”. (And don’t pretend you haven’t said those out loud, readership.) Shortly after those films came Liar Liar, starring Carrey as Fletcher Reede, a man who, as a lawyer, lies for a living, and as a man, has disappointed his estranged wife and fluffy-haired by numerous lies. The disappointed son, angry at his father, one day wishes that his dad could never tell a lie. And it comes true, Fletcher can’t lie, an hour and a half later we’ve all learned a lesson about being a good person and father and how even in the workplace honesty is the best policy and so on.
In Mr Popper’s Penguins, Carrey plays Tom Popper, a man who manipulates people into selling real estate, and who has disappointed his estranged wife and two children by being a PG-level schmuck. After the death of his father, he finds himself in ownership of six penguins, and lies to his son about being able to keep them. Thus, he has to deal with six wacky penguins, and an hour and a half later we’ve all learned a lesson about being a good person and father and how even in the workplace honesty is the best policy and so on.
But hey, I liked Liar Liar, and I enjoyed Mr Popper’s Penguins. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the poster. Popper’s life is turned upside-down by taking care of these penguins, little special-effects stars he starts off hating but inevitably becomes attached to. His precise and perfect home becomes an icy palace. His kids, who previously found him boring, want to hang out. His wife sees a new side to him. But his work life suffers, especially when he’s inches from a promotion and all he needs to do is get a certain piece of property owned by the shrewd Mrs Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury). Helping his career is his assistant, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), who speaks alliteratively in Ps throughout the entire movie, which is somehow positively precious instead of painful.
It’s a pretty ridiculous movie, not helped by the fact that the villain is a man who works at the zoo and has the entirely reasonable view that penguins would be safer and better cared for by professionals in a penguin enclosure than a businessman in a high-rise apartment. While it makes sense in a kids movie—someone wants to take away the hero’s illegal pets that he loves!—as an adult it’s ridiculous that he even gets himself in this situation in the first place by keeping them more than one day, and that his spouse Amanda (Carla Gugino) encourages it, unless she does it to be vindictive.
Despite all that, and all the poop/fart jokes, it was an entertaining hour and a half and I didn’t regret my time in the cinema at all. The stacks of kids in the theatre were very well behaved and took their cues well (“uh oh” said the girl behind me at one pertinent moment) and, you know what, Carrey is still very funny, even when he is being more Carrey than the character (doing a slow-motion run into the final scene, for example.) There were some good lines, I laughed, I had fun, I would take kids there—especially when there is never any violent danger, just the wholesome kidnapping kind. There’s lots of slipping and falling and Carrey gets hit in the nuts with a soccer ball. It’s not mature. But it’s not supposed to be. And it’s perfectly serviceable fare for all involved.