I could probably come up with a better pan for Mr. Popper’s Penguins than “flightless and foul ” but that would entail expending more creative energy on the film than its makers did. Directed by Mark Waters (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past The Spiderwick Chronicles) and based on a 1938 children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater it is so empty and artificial and formulaic that if I didn’t know better I would have pegged it as a very cynical parody or perhaps a film within a film about some desperate mafioso’s questionable money-laundering scheme.
Jim Carrey looking tired and perhaps a little embarrassed plays the title role of an arrogant self-absorbed businessman who is taught a variety of valuable life lessons by a sextet of penguins. The penguins bequeathed to Mr. Popper in his neglectful father’s last will and testament each exhibit a single personality trait which immediately makes them more emotionally complex than the film in which they appear.
They’re assigned names accordingly: there’s Captain the leader Loudy the screamer Lovey the hugger Bitey the biter Stinkey the farter and Nimrod the stumbler. I only wish this functional naming scheme were extended to the rest of the characters in the film – i.e. Clark Gregg is Nemesis Carla Gugino is Motivation Angela Lansbury is Conscience and so on. If anything it would have allowed the filmmakers to excise a healthy chunk of dialogue which in the case of Mr. Popper’s Penguins only exists to punish the brain.
The film boasts three credited screenwriters among its crew. Though I’m not privy to each writer’s specific contributions I imagine their duties were divided in roughly this fashion: 1) scrub the story of all imagination or wit; 2) remove any deviations from pat Hollywood formula; and 3) cram it with as much toilet humor as the MPAA will allow in a PG film. You’d think that a single writer could have mangled a beloved
children's book just as convincingly but you’d be wrong: This kind of
debacle requires a team effort.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Connor Mead is a womanizing commitment-phobic bachelor whose carefree antics nearly destroy his brother’s wedding weekend when his constant mockery of the sacred institution throws cold water on the event. But then straight out of the afterlife comes Connor’s philandering late Uncle Wayne (whose legendary cocksmanship inspired his current lifestyle) to lead him through a spooky Dickensian tour of the ghosts of all his many female conquests from the past present and future. As he realizes what a sorry state he’s in and how he blew his relationship with Jenny the one girl he truly loved and lost Connor will find out if there’s really a second chance in life.
WHO’S IN IT?
Matthew McConaughey plays Connor with little distinction from the myriad of other skirt-chasing cads he’s played in a string of unmemorable chick flicks like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days Failure to Launch and Fool’s Gold. His immature chauvinist act is getting a little old and poor Jennifer Garner his latest leading lady can’t do much to save him. There’s little chemistry between the two and in fact both stars don’t seem to have their heart in this lame lustful takeoff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Instead of Scrooge it’s Screwed — and the crude tone doesn’t make for the merriest of romantic comedies. For some inexplicable reason Michael Douglas took the thankless role of the late Uncle who mostly just throws out lots of double entendres. Breckin Meyer is OK as the hapless groom while Lacey Chabert is just plain annoying as his shrill bride-to-be. Acting vets Robert Forster and Anne Archer do what they can to maintain their dignity in smaller supporting roles.
The trailer for Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was much better than the actual film and showed the premise had great promise. Unfortunately they had to release the rest of the movie and the jig was up.
The screenplay just doesn’t deliver. There are few laughs in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and most of them are forced as in an endless slapstick kitchen scene where McConaughey tries desperately to keep a wedding cake from completely collapsing. He proves physical comedy is not his forte. Where’s Lucy when you need her? The overall tone is just crass and sleazy and the fantasy sequences involving the ghostly visits are flat and uninspired.
MOST PROPHETIC LINE:
At one point McConaughey utters “Wake me when there’s an action sequence will you?” We would have but there aren’t any.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Read a book instead. How about A Christmas Carol?