Review: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2'

"There's a leek in my boat!" exclaims Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) forty minutes into "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2." "There's a leek in my boat!" exclaims his father Tim (James Caan) during the grand finale. Dropping the same joke twice in a 95 minute stretch? It's possible directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn didn't even notice, as "Cloudy 2" barrels along faster than its spastic inventor on a caffeine binge. The 2009 original separated itself from the Pixar and Dreamworks competition with a joke-first approach. The sequel quadruples the recipe, with gags on top of gags on top of gags in a way only animation could achieve. Like a foodie "Jurassic Park" conjured up by Tex Avery, "Cloudy 2" is a sight to behold … as long as your brain hasn't turned to mush by the halfway point.

The movie picks up moments after the heartwarming conclusion of the first "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," where it quickly abandons any sense of character, pacing, or tension. After stopping a delectable natural disaster from wiping out his home of Swallow Falls, Flint is ready to start a "lab" — which sounds creepily like a polyamorous relationship on paper — with his gal pal Sam (Anna Faris), Dad, the local cop Earl (Terry Crews), the local bully Brent (Andy Samberg) and Sam's cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt). Life plans are thrown out of whack when Flint's childhood hero Chester V (Will Forte doing his best evil Steve Jobs impression) arrives to town to recruit the bright mind for his tech conglomerate LIVE Corp. Chester V moves Flint and the gang to San FranJose and his ulterior motives reveal themselves: The innovating mogul wants the FLDSMDFR machine, capable of producing any food out of a few drops of water, for himself. But it's stuck in the middle of an overcooked Swallow Falls, and worse, the exact location is stuck somewhere in Flint's absent-minded brain.

"Cloudy 2" isn't as successful as "Airplane!" or "Naked Gun," but it's ambitiously chasing the layered comedy established by the Zucker Bros.. The film stuffs word play in its main characters' mouths as throwaway gags explode in the background, ensuring that someone will always be laughing at something. And they're not all food puns (those are more the cherries on top of cherries on top); straying from the photorealistic trend, Cameron and Pearn stretch the elasticity of the cartoon Flint and Chester V to new lengths. As Flint builds crazy inventions adapted straight from an eight-year-old's crayon doodles — Like the "Celebratonator," an explosive box full of rainbow paint and confetti — he's reacting with flailing appendages and wide-eyed expression. Hader's spaz scientist puts Robin Williams' work in Flubber to shame. You know, since we were all heralding that one.

When Chester puts Flint in charge of returning to Swallow Falls to unearth the FLDSMDFR, "Cloudy 2" evolves into a Jules Verne-style adventure movie and loses most of its steam. The place is overrun with animal/food hybrids with predictably groan-worthy names. Bananostriches, Wildabeets, Hippotatoes, and flocks of Fruit Cockatiel run amok in the jungles of Flint's hometown, with most of the film's journey dedicated to stumbling upon and naming the edible kingdom. The highlights are Barry, an anthropomorphized strawberry who speaks adorable gibberish, and a crew of fishing pickles who look suspiciously like the Google Android logo. Building off the frenetic sensibilities of the movie's first half, the exploration of this weird and wild world, however stunningly realized by the animators, feels dredged from the shallowest pools of the Internet. Characters move with the rigid mannerisms of GIFs, emotion pops like a curated Buzzfeed list of adorable cats, and all of it vanishes at the pace of a click, on to the next set up before anything registers. "Cloudy 2" is as sharp as it can be while pandering to audiences with non-existent attention spans.

Lacking an ounce of story ultimately diminishes the effects of the movie's barrage of antics. The telling moment comes when, embarrassed in front of the entire LIVE Corp development team, Flint runs home for a pep talk from his Pa. What could have been a genuinely sweet moment is disrupted by a background stunt involving Flint's pet monkey and a trick candle gone wrong. "Cloudy 2" can't settle down for one minute, perhaps at the risk of losing its young audience. Thankfully, there's Hader and Forte's natural "Saturday Night Live" that realizes itself in full under the guise of cartoon characters. Even when the two are bouncing from their underwear, performing the nerdiest acrobatics above an electrified pool of water, these two have chemistry.

"Cloudy 2" starts ripe before rotting past the point of consumption. Its problem may be best explained by the Zucker Bros.. In their now-legendary "15 Rules of Comedy," they point to a type of failed joke called "Straw Dummy." "Where the intended target is set up by the writer instead of real life. Even if the joke hits the target, who cares?" That's "Cloudy 2," that starts off mining jokes from its dazzling environments and whacked out characters before shotgunning ideas at the wall in relentless fashion. There are lots of laughs, and for a PG-rated animated comedy, that might be enough of a miracle. But by the end, the movie, and the audience, are overstuffed. It's a cinematic food coma.

SCORE: 7.1 / 10