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Mr. Popper's Penguins

Jim Carrey doesn’t get the respect he deserves. This is most likely because most people remember him as “the guy who talked out of his butt” in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. But since that (admittedly funny) movie, he has branched out and tackled films with serious dramatic intentions, hitting home runs in The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, to a lesser extent, Man on the Moon. He’s such a versatile performer that I can't help but wonder why he accepts roles like the one in Mr. Popper’s Penguins. He is capable of so much more. Still, despite my wanting to see him in more dramatic roles, he puts his all into this movie, a respectable effort in a film that doesn’t fully deserve it.

Based on the children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, the film follows Mr. Popper (Carrey), a hard working businessman with two children and an ex-wife who he more or less ignores. It’s a neglectful trait he took from his father who was too busy exploring the world to spend time with him as a child. Now, he receives word that his dad has died and is sending him a package as defined in his will. Much to his surprise, it’s a penguin. Before he can even get rid of it, five more arrive at his door. Unfortunately, this happens on the day of his son’s birthday and the little guy mistakes the penguins as gifts, which forces Popper to keep and care for the penguins.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not a film to be overanalyzed. Those who do will find enough lapses of logic to drive them crazy. Popper lives in a New York apartment building, surrounded by other tenants trying to live peacefully, yet only one seems to hear the loud squawking penguins at night. That person tries to make a complaint, to no avail, and is essentially forgotten afterwards. Then later in the movie, Popper takes his children and all six of the penguins out to Central Park for a game of snow soccer and there isn’t a person in sight. Moments like these are impossible to ignore, but aren’t meant to be intellectually dissected.

However, the largest of these gaffes is a narrative problem so big you’d have to be sleeping to miss it. The “villain,” the person who is trying to take the penguins away, comes in the form of zookeeper and penguin expert, Nat Jones (Clark Gregg). In the film, he is played as cold and cruel, only wanting to bring emotional turmoil to Popper and his children by stealing away the penguins they’ve come to love so much. But, realistically, that’s the right thing to do. In one scene, Jones tells Popper he doesn’t know how to care for penguins and they could come down with a number of diseases if not properly kept in a zoo or in their natural habitat. Well, he’s right. Jones, the animal expert, clearly knows what’s best for the penguins. Popper and his children do not.

That problem strips away much of the emotion because we’re supposed to want Popper to keep the penguins, even though we all know he shouldn’t. But I don’t suppose most people are going to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins for its oversimplified story. No, I figure they’ll be there for the laughs and, surprisingly enough, the movie delivers. While it’s by no means a gut buster, it produces more laughs on a more consistent basis than many comedies so far this year (“It’s funnier than The Hangover 2” a colleague of mine said). While primarily for children, there are some great adult jokes, including some fun comparisons between the mannerisms of the penguins and Charlie Chaplin.

When all is said and done, though, it comes right back to Jim Carrey, who has always had a talent for physical comedy going all the way back to his days on “In Living Color.” He has such a knack for it, he manages to make getting hit in the groin seem fresh. Because of his physical prowess, these moments are genuinely funny (as opposed to someone like Kevin James who we’re supposed to laugh at because, oh ha ha, he’s kind of fat). Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not a great movie (and there are far too many scenes of penguins defecating), but it sets a goal and reaches it. And that’s more than you can say for a lot of other movies.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins receives 2.5/5



CBS Films is turning out to be one of the most unreliable production companies around. Founded in 2007, CBS Films has had a slow start with the release of only three movies, but when your best is basically a made-for-TV movie, and a bad one at that, there is some cause for concern. After Extraordinary Measures and the excruciating The Back-up Plan, one would think they could take a step forward with the hard R rated, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson led Faster, but such is not the case.

Johnson plays a man known only as Driver who is about to be released from prison after serving 10 years. His first order of business: kill those responsible for the death of his brother years before. But to do so, he’ll have to avoid a killer called Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and a junkie cop named…Cop (Billy Bob Thornton). The characters are so one-dimensional that they aren’t even given proper names.

Dwayne Johnson is built for this type of role. He has the makings of the next big action star, but he has relegated himself in recent years to nonsense kiddy fare, like Tooth Fairy and last year’s Race to Witch Mountain. In theory, this is exactly what he should be doing, but he’s stuck in a movie that doesn’t allow him to shine. Johnson, through roles in films like The Other Guys and Get Smart, has shown that he can bring the charm along with his impressive physique, but Faster keeps him from saying much of anything at all. He is quiet for the majority of the movie, limited to scowls and blank stares.

That demeanor is suitable in this genre, but the action is so bland, so boring and so weak that it isn’t of much use. Driver has five names on his hit list, but each encounter is more boring than the last. Three of his victims he simply walks up to and shoots in the head. The fourth turns out to be already dead. And the fifth he forgives, but not before having a good cry first. What a tough guy.

The action hits its creative peak during a car chase where Driver is swerving his way through traffic backwards and even that isn’t all that exciting. Faster is played out. It’s derivative and predictable, with a final twist that can be seen coming from the moment the film begins, and it doesn’t have enough material to cover its short 95 minute runtime. Instead of focusing on Driver, it dwells on idiotic side plots where Cop wants to set his life back on track, get off the dope and move back in with his family. It even gives Killer a personality, showing him at his weakest, struggling with his assassin lifestyle and wanting a simpler life, wishing to get married and start a family. Who cares? Faster is as impotent a revenge picture as has ever been produced.

Where’s the excitement? Where’s the vigor? Where’s the fun? You’ll find none of that here. It’s difficult to mess up a movie with as simple a premise as this. All you need is guns, blood and maybe an explosion or two, but Faster misses the target by a mile.

Faster receives 1/5