Jim Carrey’s pecker

Predictable, perfunctory, with perhaps a penchant for poop-centric puns, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” still prevails as a perfectly passable picture for preadolescents.

For those familiar with the 1938 source material, the film adaptation of “Popper’s Penguins” take some liberty with the story, but does not sully its legacy, albeit for the aforementioned potty humor. It’s also one of the more subdued live-action comedic performances from its lead, Jim Carrey, which works in its favor.

The film version uproots the Popper clan to present-day New York City, and makes the penguins a gift bequeathed from a Mr. Popper’s recently deceased explorer father. But even though it’s set in modern times, it feels strangely old-fashioned. And like an antique piece of machinery, it takes a little while to warm up.

It’s not that the film is dull or slow-moving, it just takes a while to settle into the film’s own reality. It looks like New York, and the actors hold jobs that may actually exist, but “Peguins” is also about a man who transforms his apartment to house a half-dozen flightless arctic fowl (despite the repeated pleas from local, logical zoo officials), and expects us to find this perfectly rational.

If you can adjust your brain to accept this premise, there are quite a few chortles to be found throughout, most due to Carrey’s ingratiating performance and the often-CGI-animated brood shacking up in his pad.

The film delves into daddy issues more than the book ever did, which does not detract too much from the overall story. It takes a little bit to settle into proceedings, but for younger fans of the book, there are far more offensive options at the theater recently (I’m looking right at you, “Judy Moody”).

The Popper of the film is a business-driven dad who is tasked with acquiring the Tavern on the Green from its obstinate owner, Mrs. Van Gundy (played by a wonderfully persnickety Angela Lansbury). When the eponymous birdies are discovered by his ex-wife (played by Cara Gugino) and children (played by Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton), Popper realizes the birds strengthen his estranged family.

Carrey’s transition from his more adult-oriented comedians has been less awkward than fellow comedians Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. He has sprinkled the latter part of his resume with detours into the territory (a “Lemony Snicket” here, an “Horton Hears a Who” there). What is interesting with “Popper” is that he could have easily brought his manic mugging to the role as he interacts with the little waddling wildlife. Instead, he adjusts the volume to suitable level, presenting a character that is oddly human for Carrey.

There’s no doubt that “Popper” is as generic as last week’s other release, “The Green Lantern,” but it does not mean it does not work. It all seems to gel despite itself, and audiences who don’t look too deep beyond the surface of the picture will exit engaged, as long as they can accept that, tonally and logically, “Popper” is a truly odd bird.

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