Friday, September 27, 2013


A major asset of 2009’s zippy pleasure Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was its sense of surprise. It was an unexpected treat in the form of a zany hilarious contraption of imagination and heart. The bouncily, colorfully animated story of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) and his food-generating invention (the FLDSMDFR) that goes very right, then very wrong, is a mile-a-minute joke machine running on slapstick, puns, and running gags of every kind imaginable. The premise was wacky – weather that rains food onto a goofy small town – and the breakneck pacing and deep down heartfelt characterization only helped elevate it into a glorious cartoony experience. Now, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is not and maybe never could’ve been the total surprise delight of the original. But there’s almost enough diverting silliness here all the same. It is in many ways more conventional and subdued. To say it has half the laughs sounds like an insult until you remember the overwhelming number and variety of jokes that were packed into its predecessor.

Starting exactly eight minutes after the end of Cloudy, the sequel finds Flint and all the citizens of Swallow Falls awestruck by a famous inventor and C.E.O of multinational tech corporation Live Corp. helicoptering into their wrecked food-covered town. Chester V (Will Forte), as limber as he is rich, pays to relocate the townspeople while his crews of researchers clean up the island. Eagerly accepting the offer, the characters move on with their new lives. Six months later, though, clean up hasn’t made much progress because the FLDSMDFR somehow survived the first film and has generated an entire island ecosystem of mutant food. Meanwhile, Flint is having trouble getting promoted out of his entry level position at Chester’s company, so he jumps at his boss’s offer to travel back to island and find the rogue invention and shut down the jungle of “Foodimals” before they can reach the mainland and wreak chewy havoc.

Off Flint goes, with his dad (James Caan), meteorologist girlfriend (Anna Faris), and pet monkey (Neil Patrick Harris), as well as a cameraman (Benjamin Bratt), a chicken-loving bully-turned-friend (Andy Samberg), and the town’s policeman (Terry Crews). A sort of pun-heavy riff on Jurassic Park, the plot of Cloudy 2 finds our intrepid protagonists trudging through a jungle of fruits and veggies, running into all manner of monstrous (and cute) food creatures: smiling berries, grumpy pickles, elephantine melons, a gargantuan “taco-dile,” and hamburger spiders with French fry legs and poppy seed eyes. I especially liked a brief glimpse of a snake with a slice of pie for a head and a Twizzlers tail. Unlike its predecessor's joyfully overcooked disaster movie spoof, this is more of a light kiddie adventure with a dusting of smile-worthy winks to keep things lightly comedic. The characters are appealing and the visual design is delicious. It’s the screenplay cooked up by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein, and Erica Rivinoja (with story credits for Chris Miller and Phil Lord) that could’ve used more time in the oven.

Though even at its most obvious, there are elements that tickled me. The creatures are imaginatively designed and good for fun puns. I enjoyed the not-so-subtle dichotomy of organic goodness versus processed factory food evil that simmers underneath the proceedings. Live Corp is in the tradition of deceptively benign movie corporations that hide evil intentions in cavernous rooms populated by anonymous white lab coats busying themselves with unknown scientific tinkerings. I mean, Chester V’s assistant (Kristen Schaal) is an orangutan with a human brain implanted inside her own. He’s clearly up to no good, even without the most heavy-handed mustache-twirling foreshadowing in the opening scene. (Given the way the rest of the movie plays out, I wonder if that moment was put in specifically to defuse what would’ve otherwise been a little plot twist.)

But compared to the densely hilarious framing and sturdy script of its predecessor, Cloudy 2 feels thinner than it should. (Compared to, say, Turbo or Planes, however, it doesn’t look so bad.) The plotting plays out more or less exactly as you’d expect, with largely easy lessons that don’t really threaten to become anything too emotionally impactful. Pair that with the sparser joke population and the whole thing bakes into a flavorful concoction that could use a bigger does of sugar to get truly tasty. Still, there’s enough imagination in the creatures and silliness in the execution to make the time pass amiably enough. It is, after all, not every day you see a movie with a subplot in which a man teaches a bunch of pickles how to fish. 

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