What is the obsession many Hollywood writers have with bathroom humor? Have American standards of comedy sunk so far that the only way to illicit a laugh nowadays is to resort to the lowest possible denominator? Have the Three Stooges (once the lowest of lowbrow comedy) become the gold standard of guffaws?
I ask these questions because in the newest 20th Century-Fox release, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, (based on a popular children’s tome and directed by Mark Waters, “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past“) features the main character not only getting dumped on twice within the first 15 minutes, but he is also treated to a good old-fashioned soccer ball kick in the groin.
Between that and the constant flatulence jokes, “Mr. Pooper” might be a more appropriate title for this movie. Toss in the retched “humor” of another summer hit, “The Hangover Part 2” and I think I’m completely grossed out for the remainder of the year, thank you very much.
Bless his heart though; Jim Carey does the best he can as tunnel-visioned New York businessman and title character. He is in his silly, over-the-top element, but the years are beginning to show. Carey, who SHOULD have won Oscar nominations for “The Truman Show” and “Man On the Moon,” has made a recent series of bad to mediocre films beginning with 2005’s horrid “Fun with Dick & Jane.” Add Mr. Popper’s Penguins to that depressing resume.
It’s really not his fault as he is given so little good to work with — and against kids and animals (W.C. Fields where are you?) no less. The plot here is fairly familiar. Overworked real estate genius Popper is all business at the expense of his family, ex-wife, Amanda (Carla Gugino, “Suckerpunch,” “Californication”), daughter, Janie (Madeline Carroll) and son, Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). One day, however, while trying to buy New York’s Tavern On The Green restaurant for his lecherous bosses, he receives a crate from the Antarctic — the last place his explorer father was seen. Of course, the crate contains “Captain,” the first of a series of real and/or CGI-created penguins to make its appearance in his life and in this movie. Soon, six more join and Popper’s once peaceful and sterile existence has been turned upside-down.
The web-footed, flightless little birds almost destroy his pristine Park Avenue apartment (he has to keep paying the doorman off and lying to his neighbors, as well as fight off an evil zoo keeper, Clark Gregg, “Thor“), but he keeps them around because they’re a tool to get his family back. Meanwhile, his professional life is going down the tubes as his efforts to convince restaurant owner Angela Landsbury continue to fail time and time again.
During this time, he also somehow converts the apartment into an ice rink, complete with snowmen, slides and a hockey rink (it’s cute and all, but how much time, effort and money would something like this take?) Finally, Popper — in a weird effort to hatch an unfertilized egg — reaches the bottom of the barrel and is fired. Coming to his senses, however, he turns the birds over to the zoo, cleans up his act and is back at the real estate agency. Of course, he now loses his family again (geesh, how much of this roller-coaster can we take?).
Can Popper walk the tightrope between love and career? Can the penguins get and keep a nice home that does not involve fish sandwiches and Charlie Chaplin films? Will Angela Landsbury ever sell Tavern On The Green? Will the guy who’s dating Amanda ever find true love? Do any of these questions matter at all?
While aiming the answers at children, this splatters all over the adults, and few, if any, would find very much of it funny. Carey does the best he can, but he surrounded by a cliché family (an especially annoying daughter who whines the entire film about a boy no one has seen nor could care less about), cliché bosses, and a ridiculous situation no one could even relate to in their wildest fantasies.
Then, to top all of this off, there’s a most irritating secretary, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond, “No Strings Attached“), who can only speak words beginning with the letter “P.” With all of the other problems in Mr. Popper’s Penguins, the people are perplexed and perturbed by this most puerile and preposterous predicament.