A gimmick that might have sustained a screamingly funny 10-minute segment on a pay-cable variety show is remorselessly stretched to feature length in “Farce of the Penguins,” a one-joke comedy that ThinkFilm wisely dropped into the straight-to-vid pipeline. There’s no denying writer-director Bob Saget gets a few good laughs from having stock footage of penguins (and other animals) dubbed by actors who sprinkle their dialogue with sexual references, scatological allusions and fusillades of F-bombs. But 80 minutes of such lowbrow tomfoolery may be too much of a crude thing even for the most undiscriminating guests at a frathouse party.
Weirdly, Saget’s parody of the phenomenally successful “March of the Penguins” is closer in execution, if not tone and spirit, to the original French version of the Oscar-winning docu, “The Emperor’s Journey” (La Marche de l’empereur). In the that incarnation, helmer Luc Jacquet used an anthropomorphic approach, using actors to individualize two of the mating penguins and their offspring. When it was picked up for U.S. release, however, the docu was turned into a more traditionally objective nature study, with Morgan Freeman serving as omniscient narrator.
For “Farce,” Saget encourages Samuel L. Jackson to get down with his bad self as narrator — “I can’t wait to finish recording this shit so I can go play golf!” — while other actors, including Saget, provide voices for penguins during various stages of the procreation cycle. No effort is made to suggest lip (or beak) movement with CGI trickery. Indeed, the penguins (and other animals) appear to be communicating through the same sort of telepathy utilized by the French birds.
One’s enjoyment of “Farce” depends entirely on how funny one might find a scene in which a belligerent penguin (Tracy Morgan) tells a fellow traveler: “Get your head out of my ass, you ‘Brokeback Mountain’ bitch!” There’s a wispy romantic plot — after trekking across the frozen wilderness with cynical buddy Jimmy (Lewis Black) and thousands of other males, romantic Carl (Saget) woos dishy femme Melissa (Christina Applegate) — but it serves mostly as an excuse to justify a series of foul-mouthed rants, not-quite-fresh pop culture references and jokey remarks.
Whenever he’s stumped for a punchline, Saget has a penguin refer to flatulence or freezing testicles.
To paraphrase a choice line from Stephen Kessler’s unjustly overlooked 2000 comedy “The Independent,” Saget milks the cow until it runs dry, then makes wallets, belts and hamburgers.