Jim Carrey spent most of the '90s as an indestructible box office force thanks to his madcap turns in Ace Ventura, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber. Since then the star has been in relatively subdued mode on screen, mixing comedies with indie fare such as the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the darkly challenging I Love You Phillip Morris. After dipping into the family-friendly genre with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events his latest, Mr Popper's Penguins, is further evidence that Carrey should keep well clear of flicks for the little ones.
Based loosely on Richard and Florence Atwater's children's book, it's a film that's so startlingly middle-of-the-road and bland that it almost completely passes you by unnoticed. It's also a movie that seems bizarrely out of time - arriving half a decade after the penguin cinema craze led by March of the Penguins and Happy Feet - and season, with the chilly scenarios better suited to a big Christmas release. Mark Waters is behind the camera to oversee the action, but this is another step down for the director who brought wit and ingenuity to the fantastic high school comedy Mean Girls.
Carrey stars as a New York real estate kingpin who inherits six penguins from his father. He's separated from his wife (Carla Gugino), who looks after their two children, but is still on good terms. The arrival of the Antarctic creatures lends Popper the opportunity to bond with his estranged family again, all while his ruthless company attempts to wrestle away the Tavern on the Green restaurant from its owner Mrs Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury). It's all highly predictable stuff and there's not much crackle or spark in this familiarity to make it worthwhile. The Popper role requires eccentricity, yet Carrey is contained and buttoned down, only cutting loose with his manic energy on a couple of occasions. He does do a very good Jimmy Stewart impression, though.
Mr Popper's Penguins collects together small moments that leave an impression, such as Brit actress Ophelia Lovibond's Pippi, an assistant to Popper with a fondness for alliterating her Ps. A set piece featuring the penguins running amok at the Guggenheim Museum and a great gag where Popper's flooded bathroom becomes a temporary aquarium - as seen in the trailer below - also find their mark.
Ultimately, these tiny contributions aren't enough to give Popper's anything to shout home about. Carrey's character is also far too nice and decent, lacking an inherent Scroogeness that would have made his journey that little bit more compelling and emotional. Like a bottle of cola that's lost its fizz, Mr Popper's Penguins is flat and sickly sweet.
Watch a trailer for Mr Popper's Penguins below: