by Tim Ross

After a two-year absence, Jim Carrey is back in theaters with a comedic spin on a morality tale in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

Loosely based on a children’s book by the same name, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is about a grown-up who needs to remember to be a kid again. That’s a change for Carrey, who’s made so many films about being a big, rubbery-faced kid in a grown-up world. Carrey handles the change in a somewhat competent way, making this a somewhat competent movie.

While it’s true that Carrey has tried to reinvent himself in more thoughtful films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” he’s rarely done comedy without going over the top – way over the top.

Popper is a highly motivated and successful real estate broker in Manhattan who rose to prominence by rebelling against the wanderlust habits of his world-traveling father and embracing the brick-and-mortar life of wealth and privilege. But somewhere along the climb up the corporate ladder he lost sight of what was important and his marriage to Amanda (Carla Gugino) disintegrated, as did his relationship with his kids.

He resents his father, who was never around, and has insulated himself with money and ambition. When Popper’s father dies, he receives a crate in the mail and out pops a penguin. Another crate arrives soon after with multiple penguins and Mr. Popper finds himself frozen out of his comfortable existence.

The kids, Janie (Madeline Carroll) and Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton), are fascinated and delighted by their father’s new pets and new attitude. The apartment may be freezing, but Mr. Popper is thawing and becoming the dad his father never was to him.

There are moments when he achieves enough gravitas to sell his lingering angst over his relationship with is father while keeping the film funny and spirited.

And effects are successful as the penguins dance, cavort and cause all sorts of trouble without looking animated or enhanced with CGI.

Clark Gregg, who pops up in films a lot lately, plays a zookeeper bent on getting the penguins in his hand. He and Gugino are the closest thing to co-stars in this ensemble film, but it’s an ensemble that’s solely just to support Carrey. The rest of the cast is underused, especially Angela Lansbury as a restaurant owner who resists Popper’s overtures to buy her property. Jeffrey Tambor, Phillip Baker Hall and David Krumholtz appear as well, but this is Carrey’s movie to, well, carry.

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” manages to have moments of tenderness and heart even while being a formulaic comedy. Like the flightless penguins, he doesn’t quite soar but the film has a lot of laughs and a few warm smiles to offer amidst all the ice.

Grade: 2/4