Experienced chefs will tell you that changing one or two crucial ingredients in a prize-winning recipe can turn a delectable meal into a flavorless dish you’d hesitate to feed to your pet.
A similar switch deflates the Sony Pictures Animation sequel “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.” Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have departed the “Cloudy” kitchen, choosing instead to apply their weird, imaginative senses of humor to 2012’s irreverent “21 Jump Street” and next February’s promising “The Lego Movie.” But even though their “Cloudy” replacements, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, have access to almost all of the components that helped make the first film a critical and commercial success, this noisy sequel delivers about as much pizzazz as reheated leftovers.
(If it seems like I’m leaning too heavily on culinary references, I’m merely taking a cue from the “Cloudy” screenplay, which never met a food-inspired pun it didn’t want to embrace, celebrate and then drive into the ground.)
The sequel picks up eight minutes after the 2009 “Cloudy” concluded. Amateur inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) continues to clean up the delicious mess created by his Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, a device that turns water into food. His faulty invention catches the eye of Chester V (Will Forte) - Flint’s childhood idol, and the mysterious chief executive of a burgeoning idea factory named Live Corp. Chester offers Flint a dream job at the California company, but his first assignment sounds familiar: He’s ordered to return to his hometown of Swallow Falls and once again disconnect the Food Replicator, which currently is creating hundreds of new, edible species called Foodimals.
The first “Cloudy” whipped a tornado of tasty food jokes into a spot-on satire of natural-disaster pictures like “Twister” or “The Day After Tomorrow.” Lord and Miller took the simple concepts of Judi Barrett’s 1978 children’s book and blew them up to epic proportions (and portions), lampooning Hollywood’s overblown, post-apocalyptic film genre in the process.
But instead of upping the ante, as so many sequels do, “Cloudy 2” merely gets the band back together - including perky weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), immature bully Brent (Andy Samberg) and Flint’s level-headed father (James Caan) - for a repetitive mission that calls to mind multiple beats from the first movie. Even stranger, once back in Swallow Falls, “Cloudy 2” lifts scenes, references and bits of dialogue from “Jurassic Park.” The towering T. rex is replaced by a Tacodile Supreme. Preying velociraptors are now cheeseburger-spider hybrids that roam the island, making things difficult for Flint.
The “Cloudy 2” script panders with sophomoric jokes about cutting the cheese, excreting “jam” from a talking strawberry’s bowels or swinging through a cavernous laboratory using wedgie-proof underwear. Kids will chuckle, for sure. But parents who were pleasantly surprised by the original movie’s intelligence will miss Lord and Miller’s guiding hands, as what once felt so funny now leaves a stale taste.
One and a half stars. PG. Contains mild rude humor. 95 minutes.
Sean O’Connell is a freelance writer.