Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

I wanted to like this movie.  Really, I did.

It should have been a safe bet.  I have fond memories of repeatedly borrowing Judi and Ron Barrett’s quirky children’s book from the library to read to our kids.  In 2009, I wondered how Sony would turn the book’s slim concept into a feature-length film, and marveled at the result.  Even with its goofball plotline–the world is threatened by the FLDSMDFR, a hyperactive machine that turns water into food–the movie captured the quirkiness of its source and injected action, humor and heart.  Socially inept young inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has to get the girl (Sam Sparks, voiced by Anna Faris), connect with his emotionally inexpressive father (James Caan), and save the world, all in ninety minutes.  And somehow, he manages.

The second installment begins where the first left off (indeed, the audience is given a recap just to make sure we haven’t forgotten what happened).  The mess left over from the greatest food fight in history needs to be cleaned up, and high-tech mogul Chester V, one of Flint’s boyhood heroes, is the man for the job.  But the FLDSMDFR isn’t dead: it’s churning out “foodimals” like the ferocious “cheespider”–a gigantic, living cheeseburger with sesame seed eyes and french-fry legs.  At first, it seems like a terror of a beast, but as Sam and Flint soon discover, the cheespider becomes as playful as a puppy when you pet it and scratch its buns.  Aided by an adorable oversized strawberry named…wait for it…Barry, Flint and the gang must save the foodimals from Chester V’s secret nefarious plans.

Nearly all the voice talent returns (Terry Crews takes over for Mr. T), bringing the same enthusiasm to the high-energy script.  But sequels often fail to live up to their predecessors, and Cloudy 2 is no exception.

To be clear: even if I can’t say I liked it, I didn’t actively dis-like it either.  Visually, we’re treated to an imaginative, boldly colorful, and surrealistic take on Jurassic Park that would surely keep young eyes glued to the screen.  I’m guessing I would have found it impressive in 3D, if I had been willing to pop for the privilege.  The primary moral of the story is simple but worthy: don’t get so wrapped up trying to impress your heroes that you turn your back on your friends.  The pacing was predictably kinetic and the script entertaining, with foodimal puns galore (fruit cockatiel, anyone?) and some genuine chuckles here and there.

But at points, the script felt like it was working too hard to be funny, throwing in every visual and verbal gag the writers could think up; it was like being at a party with someone who insists on telling the same joke over and over.  There’s only so much mileage to get from monkey poop and underwear, and lines like “There’s a leek in my boat!” only need to be given once.  (And a couple of moments actually made me cringe, as when the characters made fun of indecipherable Chinese proverbs, or the lone Hispanic character was made to sit astride a giant taco.)

The more subtle gags are funnier.  A close-up of Flint’s face shows him calling out desperately to Sam to come back; the subsequent wide shot shows her only a few feet away, trudging with slow determination through syrup.  Flint gives the obligatory Inspiring Speech to rally the foodimals, but squeaky little Barry has to translate in the background.  For me, these are the moments that make the movie.

But bottom line, the kids will be mesmerized by the colorful chaos and laugh and giggle at the underwear jokes (you may have to explain the meaning of “cut the cheese,” but the accompanying sound effect is all that matters).  Cloudy 2 is not as good as Cloudy 1, but it’s an entertaining distraction.  Maybe if you expect less than I did, you’ll enjoy it more.