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Thematically confused, but possessed of a manic comic energy that is hard to deny, "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" is a case of a sequel that will likely please many, but that falls short of the original nonetheless.
The original "Cloudy" was a bit of a miracle, a very loose adaptation of a sweet children's book that cranked up the funny and ended up working as a totally different thing than the book. The father-son story grounded the film with a nice sense of heart, but it was packed with almost non-stop jokes by Chris Miller and Phil Lord and their excellent story team. While Miller and Lord are busy finishing "The LEGO Movie" right now, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have stepped up to direct the sequel, and it maintains much of the energy that made the first film fun.
Still, it raises the question of how important it is that a film present a singular message, because it feels to me like "Cloudy 2" is deeply confused in many ways. The script by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein and Erica Rivinoja certainly seems unfettered in terms of invention, but they set up some things that it feels like they don't fully explore. In particular, the questions it raises about scientific curiosity versus scientific responsibility are never answered, or if they are, the answers are far from considered.
At heart, the film celebrate the notion of being smart and enjoying what you do. I talked about that with Bill Hader and Anna Feris recently, and I meant it. The first film showed that while one of Flint Lockwood's inventions may have gone haywire, his overall spirit of invention carried the day in the end, and he was a hero. He was revealed as a real scientist, and making Sam Sparks (Feris) a smart character as well, equally driven by love of her own particularly nerdy scientific specialty, is a really welcome choice. In this movie, they are still both smart characters, but a lot of what happens in the film is not driven by that.
If you did not see the first film, you will most likely start this movie confused and remain that way until things settle into non-stop weirdness in and around Chewandswallow, the small town on the island somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. This is almost a "Lost World" style sequel, in which the return to the island where things went haywire before reveals that it is even more haywire now, and that it's evolving on its own at this point. It's "Island of Dr. Moreau" with giant cheeseburgers, and as such, it does have a cascade of big gags and kinetic set pieces. The film moves, and once the small group of brave townspeople arrive on the island together, it's a pretty entertaining and relentless barrage. There are so many puns, so rapid fire, that it's almost overload. I remember "Shrimpanzees" in particular making me laugh.
There's a bad guy in the film, and here's where things start to confuse me. He's voiced by Will Forte, and he's basically like a Steve Jobs/Bill Gates character, but sort of a sham and a real sleazeball. "Chester V" is constantly in motion, and he' s so overbearing and smarmy that a little bit of the character goes a long way. He wants the foodimals that have evolved their own ecosystem here, an ecosystem he now somehow intends to plunder and package up for himself. He hires Flint Lockwood under false pretenses, and he moves all of them to an exaggerated Silicon Valley, where Flint pretty much flounders into obscurity.
Chester V is the one who sends them all to the island, and Flint and Sam are joined by Tim Lockwood, Flint's Dad (James Caan), Baby Brent (Andy Samberg), Earl Devereaux (Terry Crews), Manny the Cameraman (Benjamin Bratt) and Steve The Monkey (Neil Patrick Harris). I'll admit… the thought of NPH actually recording Steve's dialogue makes me laugh. It's that ridiculous a thought. Throw in Kristen Schaal as Barb, one of the most disturbing characters in the series, and you've got a very lively movie that seems not to know what it's saying about the foodimals, or even what to root for.
Are they living things to be respected and protected now, left uneaten, allowed to go untouched as they continue to evolve? Is the foodimator that is called the long and cumbersome name no longer making food? Once you have sentient food, you're not supposed to eat it, right? When a giant delicious strawberry sprouts a face, that's it. You're done. Is that right? You can't eat it when you're busy cuddling it. But why is Chester V automatically wrong for wanting to turn the foodimals into… well… food? It's in their name, for god's sake.
I know… it's like with the "Cars" movies. In the first film, I at least somewhat bought into the reality. But this time, so many questions are raised that are so strange that I am left wondering what to take away from the film. In a world where we are having conversations about genetically modified food that are important for the future of the whole globe, the film seems unsure what to think or how to convey it. It's cute. It's funny. Kids will want the toys in a major way. And yet it slightly unsettles me precisely because of how strange the message is by the end of the film.
I'm sure you'll see for yourself if you're a parent. Don't even try to resist. "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" owns you this weekend in theaters everywhere.