Friday, September 27, 2013

Cloudy With A Chance Of More Of The Same

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

(Dir. Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn, 2013)

I’m not much of a fan of Sony Pictures Animation. If DreamWorks Animation is second to the mighty Pixar these days, then Sony Pictures Animation is a distant third. Still, I kind of liked 
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, their 2009 adaptation of a popular children’s book from the late '70s. 

I just recently caught up with it and found it to be a colorfully feisty blend of funny gags, and inventive visuals, with a great cast of voices headed by SNL’s Bill Hader. It was a hit with most critics and audiences too.

But its inevitable follow-up, releasing today everywhere, is such a standard-issue sequel that it seems to take seriously what Mad Magazine called “the Sly Stallone philosophy: If at first you DO succeed, do it over and over and over again!”

Hader returns to voice protagonist Flint Lockwood, the scruffy inventor who in the first film wrecked havoc upon his tiny fictional island hometown Swallow Falls with a machine that converts rain into food.

The sequel begins right after the first one ended with the island of Swallow Falls in need of a massive clean-up, as Flint and his new squeeze, TV weather girl in waiting, Sam Sparks (energetically voiced by the returning Anna Farris) start planning their future involving sharing an ultra customized house together. But then in swoops famous inventor and CEO of Live Corp, the Steve Jobs-ish Chester V (voiced by Hader’s former SNL cohort Will Forte) who offers Flint a dream job at his company in California.

It’s obvious up front that Chester has sinister purposes in mind involving the food polluted island of Swallow Falls, and the unveiling of his company’s new Food Bar 8.0, but Flint accepts the offer and he and his crew, including James Caan reprising his roles as Flint’s father, the also returning Baby Brent (another former SNL-er, Andy Samberg), Sam’s cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), and policeman Earl (Terry Crews in place of Mr. T for some reason), relocate to San Fran Jose, California.

This is where screenwriters John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, and Erica Rivinoja (none of whom worked on the first one) get to use a bunch of discarded jokes from the first one – wacky invention ideas that didn’t make the cut according to the original's DVD  commentary – until Flint is called upon by Chester to revisit his home island because the water-into-food machine is still causing trouble.

You see, what they’ve got now to top the perfect food storm of the first one is here to make the food come alive - “foodimals” Flint calls them - so there’s no shortage of animal/food crossover gags to go around.

So Flint and his friends make their way through the island of cheese spiders (giant cheese burgers with French fry legs and hundreds of sinister sesame-seed eyes), shrimpanzees, hungry tacodile supremes, peanut butter and jellyfish mosquitoasts, watermelophants, apple pie-thons, and all other kinds of cringe-worthy pun creations so that they can stop Flint’s machine from making more of these sentient beasts.

This allows for JURASSIC PARK-style sweeping shots of the land of the living food, something they apparently can't resist doing over and over.

Many of the same jokes from the first one are repeated, and the ultimate decision Flint has to make between obeying Chester to advance his career or going with his friends, who have started to form connections with the foodimals, is a halfhearted attempt to give the film some moral depth when you know it cares more about getting cheap laughs.

I giggled slightly a few times, but mostly stared at this sequel as it was fussily trying too hard to be funny and exciting at every turn. A running gag about Chester’s use of holograms gets increasingly annoying, especially as it figures heavily in the big climax set in a massive floating food fortress.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 will probably satisfy hardcore fans of the first one for being more of the same. And, of course, kids who haven’t formed much in the way of critical thinking will probably dig it too. As for me, I got a nice meal of a movie the first time at the plate, but I feel overstuffed and a bit queasy after this round of sloppy seconds.

More later...

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