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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs / ***½ (PG)Posted Thursday, November 12, 2009, at 7:13 PM
It's raining cheeseburgers in the motion picture adaptation of the popular children's book "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs".
It's hard to get me laughing. I chuckle. I don't guffaw. I've had moments of uncontrollable laughter. I remember an incident with my brother and a grouper dish in a fancy restaurant that threatened to get us kicked out, but for the most part I'm a single "Ha!" man.
That being said, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is an absolute laugh riot. I was laughing during almost every single moment of this movie. The laughs are pretty basic, as any food-based comedy would be. Although, often the filmmakers show a great knack for subtle and background humor that isn't always in your face. It's sweet and non-offensive. It doesn't imbue its story with great depth or even jokes just for the grownups. But the basic kid-friendly comedy it embraces it sharply done and non-stop.
The story takes place on the small island town of Swallow Falls, located under the 'L' in the Atlantic Ocean (ho-ha). The citizens of Swallow Falls are forced to live off their own overabundant sardine supply when it is realized by the rest of the world that sardines are gross. Little Flint Lockwood, however, is an inventor who will eventually invent Swallow Falls' saving grace, a machine that turns the weather into food. So instead of a snow shower, Swallow Falls will get an ice cream shower that even forms in scoops on the rooftops. The town becomes famous for its food weather and changes its name to Chewsandswallows (ha-ho).
The whole thing is pretty simple. There's no new ground broken here. Flint (voiced by SNL's Bill Hader, "Tropic Thunder") is the scientist oblivious to the world around him. He has a disapproving father (James Caan, "Elf"), whose admiration is a desperate commodity for Flint. Sam Sparks (Anna Faris, "Scary Movie" series), the intern promoted to weather girl to cover the island's unique precipitation, is secretly as much a nerd as Flint, and therefore is a potential love interest. The Mayor (Bruce Campbell, "The Ant Bully") pushes Flint's invention too far out of greed and gluttony. So you've got the tension with Dad, the romantic interest, and the bad guy. Is it a surprise to learn that everything eventually goes horribly wrong? No real stretch there, but the details of the movie raise it to a higher level than your average family flick.
Take Tim Lockwood's eyebrow, for instance. Flint's father is a big man, very imposing yet very soft spoken. He has a monobrow that is so large it covers his eyes completely. You can do this in animation. In real life this man would barely be able to function. His eyebrow keeps him composed, but when truly angered or surprised that eyebrow raises up, exposing the man's vulnerable eyes beneath. The effect of this event is considerably humorous.
Or take Flint's pet monkey, Steve (Neil Patrick Harris, "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"). Steve is Flint's Igor, although he seems less useful. Whenever Flint is cooking up a new food to fall from the sky, Steve suggests Gummy Bears. Steve's insistence on Gummy Bears becomes second nature--even to the audience--but eventually the story brings Steve his Gummy Bears in a "big" way. The results have the audience finding a new respect for the lame-brained companion.
Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of reading the original children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett to my two boys; but as I understand it, the movie diverges greatly from the story in the children's book. Screenwriters and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the producing team behind CBS's "How I Met Your Mother") have shaped the premise of the island with food for weather into more of an adventure than what was presented in the Barretts' book. This helps the movie work on a universal level that all audiences can tune into.
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" certainly never reaches the levels of greatness that the films of Pixar Studios do, films like "Up" and "WALL*E". But there is no denying the fact that I haven't laughed this much in a movie theater yet this year. There are no profound truths to be found in a movie about food falling from the sky, but it will stick to your ribs.
Visit A Penny in the Well for movie trailer, related merchandise, and a favorite kids food based star rating scale.
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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