September 17, 2009

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (PG)
A scientist turns water into meatballs hamburgers and pancakes — but strangely, not wine — in the animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, another 3-D movie sending foodstuffs straight at your face and less-than-delighting you with a rather flat story.

Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) is an inventor — as a kid he had posters of Einstein, et al., on his wall and his favorite gift was an oversized white lab coat. As an “adult,” he’s still trying to invent things and while some of his inventions have, technically, worked (the rat-birds reproduced at a startling rate, he reports) none have brought him the success he seeks. In fact, all they’ve really done is brought him the disapproval of his father (James Caan), who along with the rest of the town is eking out a sardine-related living on their grim hometown island.

That is until Flint’s machine that turns water into food works. Well, first it shoots up into the sky, disappearing in an explosion of color, but then, later, when it rains hamburgers, he realizes that it’s working. And luckily, another young go-getter looking to build a name for herself is around to see it — Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), the intern at the weather channel sent to cover a low-level civic event. Instead, she gets the weather story of a lifetime.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has lots of little moments that are fun — a monkey named Steve (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) who is hooked up to a machine that reads his thoughts, reporting exactly the things you’d expect a monkey to say (“banana” and “Steve”). There’s Baby Brent (Andy Samberg) the now-grown model who, like that baby on the Coppertone bottle, had his image on all the sardine labels and remains an inexplicable local hero. And then there’s the pompous mayor (Bruce Campbell) who spends all of his town’s revenue on an amusement park in an attempt to bring in tourists. Mr. T even has a voice cameo.

But in all this craziness, I kind of felt that while I got my giggles, not enough entertainment was focused at the kids. Not to underestimate the world’s elementary schoolers, but there was a lot of talking about living up to a dad’s expectations, Sam’s tendency to giggle to hide her smarts, the weird romance between Sam and Flint. Were it not for the color and the 3-D, I could see these rather significant parts of the story boring most kids.

Though if ever there were a movie that could use color and constant motion to distract an audience from the lack of onscreen heft, this is it. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs does indeed look great and all the strange food sight gags (diving into and getting stuck in Jell-O) are entertaining even if there isn’t all that much to back them up. B-

Rated PG for brief mild language. Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (from a book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is an hour and 21 minutes long and is distributed by Sony Pictures. It opens in wide release on Friday, Sept. 18.