— When it rains, it pours maple syrup (and hotcakes and bacon and eggs) in the new 3-D animated comedy “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” a movie overstuffed with enough sight gags to delight children — if the young audience members at a recent advance screening are any indication — while throwing in healthy dollops of wordplay and absurdist humor to keep their adult chaperones entertained as well.
Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader of “Saturday Night Live” and “Superbad”) has spent his life trying desperately to invent something — anything, really — that will make him a legend alongside Edison and Tesla. Even after early failures like spray-on, no-tie shoes (turns out they can’t be removed) and a monkey thought translator (“Lick!” and “Gummi bears!” makes up most of what goes through his simian sidekick’s mind), Flint remains determined to come up with one great discovery, even though his disapproving father Tim (James Caan) wishes his son would give up on science and come work with him in the bait shop.
The invention that finally earns Flint some recognition — and puts his tiny island town of Swallow Falls on the map — is a machine that transmutes water into food. Of course, getting the necessary wattage to turn the thing on requires Flint to hook it up to the town power supply, which sends the device into the clouds, thus making it rain cheeseburgers down from the sky.
When the food first starts plummeting to earth, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller parody that stock Spielberg shot where someone looks up into the sky, eyes wide and mouth agape; in this case, the film cuts to almost every single person in town doing that before we finally get to see the shower of snacks.
The Weather News Network (“Whether there’s news or not!”) sends perky intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) out to cover the strange, edible weather over Swallow Falls, but her bubbly blond exterior hides a nerdy, Doppler-radar–loving soul that Flint falls hard for. Their budding romance is threatened, however, by mutations that are dropping ever-larger hot dogs and steaks on the town.
When a spaghetti twister, accompanied by meteor-sized meatballs, looms on the horizon, can Flint stop his machine from flooding the world with foodstuffs?
Adults may find themselves tensing up for the inevitable disaster that Flint’s food-creating machine is leading to, but if you can put that aside — much less real-world issues like spoilage or famine — there’s plenty in “Meatballs” for audience members with driver’s licenses to enjoy.
The pop culture references (I spotted nods to “Dial M for Murder,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and even “Welcome to Mooseport”) are subtle enough — and fly by so quickly — that they won’t make the movie dated by the time it hits DVD. There’s also lots of under-the-breath asides and blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em sight gags that will reward multiple views.
And kids will want multiple views, I suspect, even at home without the 3-D glasses. (“Meatballs” uses the technology to make things go further toward the horizon rather than out to the audience’s faces, so it should play just fine in two dimensions.) Just make sure your moviegoing budget includes some serious concessions money — all that flying food is liable to rouse your appetite.
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.