The kids who loved the zany humor in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, a digitally animated film version of a children’s book that mused on the hypothetical situation of clouds raining down prepared food on a small town, will probably love the even further heightened zaniness of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. The adults who appreciated the cute romance between the clumsy inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) who created the surreal weather disturbances and the aspiring meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), who fell for him, however, may feel a little dissatisfied.
In this sequel, Flint and Sam venture back home for a clean-up assignment. Joining them are some of the last film’s regulars, including Flint's fisherman father (James Caan), Flint's former bully turned pal Brent (Andy Samberg), Sam's steely Guatemalan cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Flint's "lab assistant" monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), and the town's burly cop Earl (Terry Crews replacing Mr. T). Flint takes the job to impress his science idol Chester V (Will Forte), who is the celebrity CEO of a company called Live Corp that manufactures processed food bars and happens to have a vested interest in the leftovers.
A contrived if familiar front obscures the greed driving Chester's faux-hippy demeanor (he greets people with "Namaste"). Live Corp's headquarters are inspired by the play/work complex of Google and fueled by Steve Jobs-esque pep speeches from the company's leader, who mostly uses holograms of himself to connect socially. Of course something nefarious bubbles below the surface. It's a sly stab at Apple and its purported sweat shops in China that are used to manufacture the iPhones for which the West is so crazy.
However, the mission goes awry when Flint and the gang turn conservationists due to the irresistible cute factor of the food somehow turning into "foodimals" (tacodiles, mosquitoasts, and flamangos, among others). There is something lost without the romance at the heart of the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. But there are messages to be had, both overt (don't leave your friends behind while chasing your dreams!) and subtle (don't be distracted by smoke and mirrors into fanatical consumerism!). If it's delivered by a wide-eyed, smiling strawberry named Barry that "jams" itself when startled, so be it.
The film may sometimes feel uneven, as the characters have little room to develop after the first getting-to-know-each-other film, speaking primarily to explain their behavior. But for every shruggable, over-expository explanation of action among the characters, you get a moment in the background like Steve the Monkey struggling with a sparkling, self-lighting birthday candle. It's all about sight gags and puns. (Guess what foodimal inspires the exclamation "There’s a leek in my boat!")
Some might take issue with the replacement of Phil Lord and Chris Miller with upstarts Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. And don't bother to untangle the writing credits, which pay tribute to the original authors, the first directors, and three other writers. And sure, despite the 3D theatrics, I would not argue that there's something flat about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Maybe it's the overly simple design of the "foodimals" at the center of the story or a lack of character dynamic between the group of friends. But, ultimately, this kiddie movie is high-geared for cuteness that will delight those who liked the preposterousness of the first film and want to see the zaniness heightened a notch.
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A “bedtime story” is a fairly succinct way to describe Lady. Of course a bedtime story being told by M. Night Shyamalan can go into any number of weird and wild directions. The writer/director says the idea for Lady was based on a story he’d told his kids which began with “Did you know that someone lives under our pool?” and revolves around Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) a lowly superintendent for an apartment building who inadvertently finds Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) a mysterious nymph-like “narf ” living in the pool. She’s there to complete a task and now that it’s done she needs to go home back to the Blue World. But that’s easier said than done. She only has a small window of opportunity and apparently there’s a ferocious beast called a “scrunt” lurking in the grass around the pool waiting to kill her if she tries to leave. Now Cleveland and a few of the other tenants—who find themselves intricately tied to Story’s plight—must help her escape to freedom. Thank god for Sideways. Without it Giamatti would have gone on playing under the radar without the recognition—and juicier parts—he deserves. He is truly a wonder as Cleveland a sad little man with a stutter who is quietly trying to hide from a tragic past. It’s only when Story comes into his life does he face his personal tragedy and learn to live again. Howard on the other hand who wowed most of us with her stunning performance in The Village doesn’t have nearly as much to work with as the pale water nymph. The mystical character is fairly one note—befuddled and cheerless. But the rest of the apartment tenants shine: Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) as a single dad who has a penchant for crossword puzzles; Freddy Rodriguez (HBO’s Six Feet Under) as a weight builder who only lifts weights on one side of his body; Bob Balaban (A Mighty Wind) as a pompous film critic (and as a critic I’m not at all offended when he gets his comeuppances); Cindy Cheung as a Korean college student who is key in telling the epic bedtime story; Sarita Choudhury (She Hate Me) as a quippy young woman looking for her mission in life and Shyamalan himself as her brother the person Story is meant to inspire to write something extraordinary. There’s never a dull moment with this crew around. In a way M. Night Shyamalan has become his own worst enemy having to live up to this reputation as a master of suspense and surprise twists. His last effort The Village left many of his fans feeling unsatisfied—and unfortunately he may alienate more with Lady in the Water. But the fact of the matter is he is still one of Hollywood's more brilliant minds on par with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for originality who has an innate talent for crafting ingenious stories filled with genuine human emotions. So maybe this time around he’s made a movie more for those most ardent of his fans who simply revel in the way his mind works no matter how incomprehensible and frivolous it may seem. So what? The diehards might feel compelled to defend Shyamalan’s choices with Lady—how he has come up with an entire universe where things like “scrunts” and the “Tartutic” (simian-like creatures who form an invincible force that maintains law and order in the Blue World) and “Madam Narfs” interact with humans in the real world. If the story actually took place in the Blue World then maybe it’d be easier to swallow. But that’s sort of the genius of Shyamalan. It’s as if with Lady in the Water he’s crafted a child-like movie for those adults who remember being told wildly creative bedtime stories who then in turn tell the stories to their kids.