Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs -- Film Review

Given the great premise behind the 1978 children's book by Judi Barrett -- a young inventor devises a contraption that sends all kinds of kids' favorite foods raining from the skies -- it's surprising that it took three decades to turn "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" into a movie. But new developments in 3D animation technology have made this a perfect moment for the film version. A large family audience is guaranteed.

First-time directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who honed their comedy skills working on the sly sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," bring the right energy to the project.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a brainy nerd who is out of sync with his hometown, the dilapidated island community of Swallow Falls, until he invents a gadget that sends hamburgers, pizzas, pancakes and ice cream dropping from the clouds. Suddenly the town, previously best known for a sardine factory that's now defunct, becomes a hot tourist destination. But as in any fantasy, the young Dr. Frankenstein's invention goes awry, and Flint has to use his brainpower to save the town from catastrophe. Along the way, he initiates a romance with a perky weathergirl (Anna Faris), a closet nerd herself, and he repairs his relationship with his disapproving father (James Caan).

"Cloudy" might have been better as a short film than a feature. Although the premise is delicious, and some of the visual gags -- like a scene in which Flint and his girlfriend penetrate a huge mound of jell-o -- tickle the funnybone, there isn't enough story to sustain a 90-minute movie. Lord and Miller introduce antagonists, including the opportunistic town mayor (Bruce Campbell) and the former child star gone to seed (Andy Samberg), but these are rather wan figures compared to the memorable villains in animated films.

The splashy animation is well-executed but again a bit monotonous for a full-length feature. Some of the 3D effects are impressive, though the film doesn't take full advantage of the possibilities.

Most of the actors do a good job. Caan is particularly strong as a technophobe who has to figure out how to use a computer to help his son save the day. Mr. T also has a funny role as the hard-nosed town cop who becomes Flint's reluctant ally. The directors enlisted their "Mother" star, Neil Patrick Harris, to portray Flint's anarchic monkey assistant. Although the script is uneven, the target audience will be in hog heaven.

Opens: Friday, Sept. 18 (Columbia)