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FILM REVIEW: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

By Michael Phillips

Chicago Tribune Movie Critic

2-1/2 stars

Fairly inventive and exceedingly manic, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" comes from the 1978 picture book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett. To say the title helped sell the kids story is an understatement, certainly the only understatement involved with the movie version.

Still, there's a semblance of a comic personality at work. Plenty of middle-ground (or worse) animated features feel like timid corporate entities. This one, which is certainly fresher than "Ice Age 3," to make a random comparison, has little visual distinction beyond its eager, pancakes-comin'-atcha! 3-D effects, but it is full of running jokes, cockamamie details and such barely explainables as a town terrorized by plummeting food of all kinds and sizes, in which someone runs into a store and loots a TV, followed immediately by a TV on legs running in and running out carrying a salesman. If you don't like that one, there are dozens more. Plus the apocalypse, buffet-style.

The Barretts didn't provide much of a narrative, so adapters and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller cooked one up on their own. Flint, a motherless Jimmy Neutron-type inventor (voiced by Bill Hader), grows up and perfects a machine that turns water into food. A visiting TV weathercaster (Anna Faris) becomes Flint's crush. Then things get out of hand; the food keeps coming, in obesity-epidemic portions, thanks to the grabby appetite of the island village mayor, voiced by Bruce Campbell. Mr. T voices the hyper-vigilant local cop - which answers the question: What has Mr. T been up to lately?

At its two-thirds point "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" morphs into a disaster movie that might make Roland "2012" Emmerich or even the maestro, Irwin Allen, say "enough." Still, the on-the-fly, off-the-cuff laughs bubble up on cue, and James Caan (sounding alarmingly like James Gandolfini, or the other way around) adds a welcome touch of restraint as Flint's taciturn dad.

"We tried to push the envelope in every area that people could stomach," Lord recently told the Los Angeles Times, "and deliver the craziest movie the studio would allow."

Crazy doesn't always equal funny, and the gigantism of this 3-D offering's second half puts a damper on your enjoyment. But look: This film wasn't made for you, or me. It was made for easily distracted 9-year-olds. And at least the never-enough aesthetic extends to its sheer, Augustus Gloop volume of sight gags.

MPAA rating: PG (for brief mild language).

Running time: 1:21.

Featuring the voices of: Bill Hader (Flint); Anna Faris (Sam); James Caan (Tim); Bruce Campbell (Mayor); Mr. T. (Earl).

Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller; based on the book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett; produced by Pam Marsden. A Sony Pictures Animation release.


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