Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (2009)

Starring Bill Hader, Ana Faris and James Caan
Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

I've never read the children's book this movie is based on, so I can't comment on it as an adaptation.  But I was surprisingly entertained by this inventive and charming movie. 

Bill Hader stars as Flint Lockwood, a young genius feeling trapped by the circumstances of his life.  His love of science and invention leaves him living on the fringes of a town that's already something of a podunk burg - an island community known only for its sardine packing plant.  When the world realizes that sardines are, well, gross, the town takes a turn for the worse.  Mayor Shelburne (Bruce Campbell) sinks the entire town's budget into a wild idea to turn the island's sardine fixation into a tourist destination.

Unfortunately, Flint's newest invention ruins the entire thing when it rockets through the opening ceremony uncontrollably and disappears into the sky.  Rejected once more, Flint secludes himself in his own misery until he meets a pretty weather channel intern named Sam Sparks (Anna Farris) who believes Flint's invention not only ruined the town, but her career as well, when she's embarrassed on-camera by him.  However, before either of them can get into it, a hamburger falls from the sky.

It turns out that Flint's invention, a device that creates food out of water, has become lodged in the clouds.  When it rains, instead of drops of water, the machine emits tons upon tons of food which rain down, perfectly cooked, on the populace.  At first, this makes Flint the hero, now beloved by the town that had previously rejected him.  Even Sam begins to feel some attraction toward him.  The only person who doesn't seem impressed by this is Flint's father, Tim (James Caan), with whom Flint shares a rocky relationship.  The two find it simply impossible to relate to each other, even though it's clear that they both care deeply for the other, and desperately want to find some kind of way to express it.

However, things take a turn for the worse when the machine can't be stopped and the food begins to mutate, growing larger and larger and becoming a danger to the town.  Initially, Flint isn't too worried about this, since he's too concerned with being so popular.  Eventually, however, he realizes the error of his ways and must figure out a way to stop the machine before its hurricane of food destroys not only the town, but perhaps the entire world as well.

As I said before, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is clever and charming.  The characters are well drawn and unique from each other.  A parade of stars fills in the roles here, and everyone does a great job.  Perhaps the most surprising is Mr. T as Earl Devereaux, seemingly the town's only police officer, who, despite his gruff exterior, is actually a rather sweet, loving person.  James Caan delivers an understated performance as Tim, only getting a few lines, but the character is able to communicate quite a bit with just a grunt here or there and through his actions.  Bill Hader is quite successful as Flint, for the most part disappearing into the role and only a few times doing that sort of nasally exhortation that made me sit up and go, "Oh, right, Bill Hader."  Andy Samberg is about as successful int a minor role as former town celebrity "Baby" Brent.

Visually, the movie is a bit of a mixed bag.  The characters are well designed and, I'm sure, faithful to their printed counterparts.  But the world around them is a little strange in how detailed and realistic it is.  While the human characters are wildly stylized, their surroundings are not - sky, clouds, water and environment effects are all really, well, "real."  At times it pulled me out of my suspension of disbelief to be looking at a gorgeous sunset or the rolling waves of the ocean and suddenly see some cartoon character with impossibly thin limbs and huge hair.  It all looks good, the characters and their environments, but that inconsistency can be jarring.

There are lots of great verbal and sight gags littering the movie.  It doesn't fully explore some of the concepts it presents, however.  By the end of the film, it seems the machine has begun producing sentient food to protect itself, but we're never told why this is happening - or why the sentient food like man-eating chickens and flying fighter-plane pizza wedges exist only in close proximity to the machine while food on the ground is simply larger and therefore more dangerous.  It seems thrown in there as a last-minute obstacle for the characters to overcome, to extend the finale action sequence a bit, rather than a full-fledged idea within the plot.   Now, don't get me wrong on this, either, it's mined for some seriously hilarious moments (the Gummy Bear fight sequence is an absolute riot) but I think it could have been a bit less vague.

I just have to recommend this movie, however.  If you've got kids, they'll love it.  If you're just feeling like you want to watch something fun, funny and colorful, you'll love it, too.  If you're a huge fan of the book, well, I guess I can't speak to that... All I know is that it's a good movie, if a little imperfect.  If you've got a special attachment to the book and nothing less than a pitch-perfect adaptation will do, then I guess you'll just have to take that chance.  But I think you'll enjoy it, too.