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Notes from the Back Row

Penguins and unlimited power



"It's certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life... At one time you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever."


Trainspotting was one of the best films of the 1990s. The character Sick Boy proposed the above theory mostly to illustrate the downward trajectory of Sean Connery's career post- James Bond but the concept holds for almost anyone, especially comedians.

Take Jim Carrey, for instance. He had a string of hits in the '90s ( Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, The Mask ) and in his heyday truly upped the ante for physical comedy (especially with his TV stuff on In Living Colour ). But getting old is hard on comedians and to prove it this Friday at the Village 8, Jim takes a shot at the "Funny CGI animals who poop a lot" genre with Mr. Popper's Penguins.

Carrey stars as a rich and successful (yet emotionally unfulfilled) real estate developer who inherits six penguins that turn his world upside down and teach him what's important in life. To his credit, Carrey mugs it up in reaction shots and pulls out all his old tricks while dealing with not-real co-stars with characterization-names like "Stinky" and "Bitey." The real problem isn't even Carrey however, it's that director Mark Waters plays it safe and actually restrains his rubber-faced star from going full-out bonkers and possibly saving what is an otherwise stupid movie. Of course, it's aimed at 10-year-olds so perhaps I'm expecting too much. One good thing is Carla Gugino also stars as Mr. Popper's ex-wife and she is always worth it. Her all-naked role as Marv's psychiatrist in Sin City was a high point but I knew she was a hitmaker as far back as Son in Law.

Sin City, coincidentally, is one of the best comic-to-movie adaptations because, while it certainly embraced the unrealistic, it also kept things down to earth.

Green Lantern , also opening this Friday, goes off the charts in the other direction, opening with a heavily CGI'd montage/backstory/prologue full of aliens, foreign planets, high concepts and drifting clouds of evil puke-looking stuff. Almost ten minutes later we meet some real humans, namely Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who is a cocky fighter jet pilot chosen by a magic ring to save the world while simultaneously learning a valuable moral lesson about falling in love with Blake Lively.

Green Lantern is directed by Martin Campbell, the guy who rebooted the Bond franchise with Casino Royale. Unfortunately, he doesn't bring the same level of grounded grittiness and Green Lantern ends up just being really out there and kind of hard to follow. Peter Sarsgaard stars as the bad guy but his giant forehead continuously throws the viewer out of the film. That kind of thing works in Sin City or Dick Tracy , where the filmmakers set up an alternate reality and ease the viewers into it, but here? Not so much. Superhero fans might as well just go download The Green Hornet instead. At least those guys are having fun with it.

The good news is, Bad Teacher is coming next week and if the R-rated red band trailer is any indication, Cameron Diaz's boozy, pot smoking, trash talking teacher just might be the hit of the summer. Cameron Diaz made her film debut alongside Jim Carrey in The Mask and while she was never a superstar actress, whatever she had, she's hung on to. Maybe Sick Boy's theory only works on dudes?