I could have been a lawyer. Or a doctor. Or a truck driver, aerobics instructor or even a pastry chef. But instead I ticked off the film critic box on career day and began a journey that brought me to a screening of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked,” a movie that chipped away at my will to live.
Once again Jason Lee returns as Dave, the owner, manager and father figure to Alvin, Theodor and Simon, chipmunk singing superstars and their sister group, the Chipettes. On cruise before heading off to the International Music Awards the critters raise havoc before becoming castaways on a remote island inhabited by a stranded UPS worker who has been searching for the island’s hidden treasure for ten years. It plays like a rodent “Gilligan’s Island,” with bits of “Survivor” and “Treasure Island” thrown in for good measure.
“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked” isn’t a movie, it’s marketing, an excuse to sell plush toys and soundtracks filled with chirpy–chippy?–versions of pop hits like “Vacation” and “Bad Romance.” (Parents be warned! Buy the soundtrack and spend the holiday season listening to Lady Gaga songs cutified to the point where they make Miley Cyrus sound like Megadeth.)
For all the film’s family friendly messages about family and responsibly and the occasional adult joke–“I can see Russia from here!”–I can’t help but see these Chipmunk movies as more an excuse to sell products than entertain young minds. I know not all kid’s flicks have to have a redeeming social message or an educational angle, but I do think they should aspire to something more than consumer culture.
The film’s two main human stars–Lee and David Cross–both started their careers doing much more alternative kinds of work. Lee as a skateboarder and Kevin Smith protégé, Cross as the evil genius behind TV’s “Mr. Show with Bob,” so it must come as a surprise to them how much time they now spend acting opposite furry co-stars whose idea of a great joke is initiating a dance-off with a group of “Jersey Shore” castoffs.
Cross, at least, seems to be in on the joke. He’s taking the paycheck and every now and again gets a good line like, “Hate, anger and resentment aren’t just the names of a girl group I once signed,” but Jason Lee, what is he thinking?
He’s a usually charming, edgy and funny performer force fit into the role beloved family entertainer. He fits the part well enough, although, frankly it could be anyone playing the role, but every minute spent working opposite wisecracking chipmunks makes it harder to remember when he made cool movies like Chasing Amy.
As commercials for kids toys go “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked” is state-of-the-art. As a movie it’s ninety minutes of product placement.
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