Jim Carrey has worked with animals before - after all, he was Ace Ventura, pet detective, right? (And Jeff Daniels, his costar in Dumb and Dumber, wasn't really human, was he?) So the sight of the actor mugging it up with a half-dozen penguins isn't all that strange.
It's not all that amusing, either.
In Mr. Popper's Penguins, a slick, soulless adaptation of the children's book classic, Carrey is a Type-A New Yorker whose life gets upended, his icy heart thawed, by the mysterious arrival of a crate of gentoos from Antarctica.
Tom Popper, as we learn from the flashbacking prologue, was a kid who saw his father only once every few years - the peripatetic pop communicated with his son by shortwave radio. Now an adult (kind of) and a real estate exec jockeying for a partnership, Popper has just closed on Manhattan's famous Flatiron building. His troika of bosses tell him that if he can nab Central Park's Tavern on the Green - they plan to tear down the landmark eatery and erect a skyscraper - they'll add his name to the company's marble slab.
Carrey's Popper has two kids (Madeline Carroll, Maxwell Perry Cotton) and an ex-wife (Carla Gugino), all of whom have pretty much given up on him. He's so wrapped up in his work, so obsessed with the next deal, that their lives are afterthoughts.
Enter the penguins. Let the putative comic mayhem, the potty-training jokes and life-lessons begin.
Apparently, real penguins were used in Mr. Popper's Penguins, and while they have names - Nimrod, Captain, Bitey, Loudy, Stinky, and Lovey - good luck trying to distinguish one from the other, or feeling even the slightest twinge of emotional connection to these waddling birds. But Carrey, to earn his paycheck, has to act like he's bonding with this squawking colony. Popper makes over his Park Avenue apartment to accommodate his feathered friends, and when his two kids see the birds, suddenly they're thinking maybe their dad isn't so bad after all.
But then there's the heavy - a Central Park Zoo official (Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson in Iron Man and Thor) who wants the penguins.
And there's Angela Lansbury, as Tavern on the Green's grand old dame. And there's Ophelia Lovibond, an English actress who plays Popper's personal assistant and has the unenviable job of blurting out endless streams of alliterative sentences, heavy on the letter P. Her name is Pippi.
Mr. Popper's Penguins proceeds apace (this P-word stuff is infectious), and it's all over before you know it, and the company that keeps track of media impressions for Donald Trump should stay alert: There are several pointless mentions of "the Donald."
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/