Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"

I didn't much care for the first "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," and the sequel is no improvement. The characters are flat, the story is unimaginative, and the humor is aimed straight at the pre-kindergarten crowd. If it weren't for the terrific animation and amazing creature designs, it would have nothing to recommend.

For those who don't remember the last flick: never-do-well inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) invented a machine that could spontaneously produce food out of water. Of course, it went berserk and began raining down house-sized cheeseburgers and pizza on his island home town. Flint and a crew of unlikely pals eventually shut it down.

The sequel picks up right where we left off, with the folks celebrating even as their dwellings are uninhabitable. Cue the arrival of Chester V (Will Forte), Flint's childhood hero, a scientist who creates all sorts of neat stuff while exuding a sense of superior cool. He's the best thing about the movie, with his weird body that has the rubbery quality of a yoga master and the studied mannerisms of Steve Jobs.

Chester's company, LIVE Corp., is a not-at-all disguised spoof of Apple. They offer to relocate the people of the town while things are tidied up. Meanwhile, Flint is enticed with a job offer, including the potential to join the ranks of the Thinkonauts -- Chester's geek elite.

But, wouldn't you know, it turns out Flint's food machine is still cranking out exotic eats, so he's recruited to go back and set things right.

Joining him out a sense of camaraderie are meteorologist/girlfriend Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), grumpy beetle-browed dad (James Caan), bully-turned-doofus-sidekick Brent (Andy Samberg), doctor/videographer Manny (Benjamin Bratt), police officer/acrobat Earl (Terry Crews) and Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), Flint's monkey assistant. New to the crew is Barb (Kristen Schaal), Chester's pushy orangutan assistant.

Things get interesting when they arrive on the island, where it turns out the food is not only still getting cranked out, it's actually taken on sentient animal form. So Flint and friends are chased by a cheeseburger spider (much scarier than it sounds) and buddy up with a walking, talking strawberry.

I just loved the huge menagerie of critters the filmmakers came up with -- it's a real feast for the eyes. There are hippos that resemble potatoes, leek brontosaurus, a taco tyrannosaur, "shrimpanzees," and a whole lot more.

I just wish co-directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, and screenwriters John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein and Erica Rivinoja, could've come up with a story and characters to match the excellent visuals. The people struggle to qualify as one-dimensional, since they each have exactly one defining characteristic.

As for the 3-D, I would advise you to skip the upcharge -- the special effects really aren't special enough that you need to see them splayed out across your field of vision.

My almost-3-year-old seemed reasonably engaged throughout the movie, but rarely laughed out loud or started chattering or clapping excitedly. "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" is competent, nice-looking entertainment for little ones that will soon be forgotten, and deserves to be.

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