The most interesting thing about “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” is watching the former stars of entertainments like “Almost Famous,” “Veep,” “Anchorman” and “Lost in Translation” stumble over one another for a paycheque.
The fourth “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sees the musical rodents, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney) take an extended road trip from Los Angeles to Miami to prevent their caregiver and producer Dave (Jason Lee) from proposing to his new girlfriend Shira (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). The Munks like her well enough, but her son Miles (Josh Green), their potential new step-brother, is a future serial killer who delights in torturing the small, furry brothers.
“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” operates on the premise that everything the chipmunks do is cute. Actual jokes? Don’t need them because they’re Theo-dorable! Get it?
This is the kind of movie that feels like the marketing department and not filmmakers created it. There are enough songs to fill a soundtrack, enough adorability to fill shelves with plush toys with just enough pop culture references to Linda Blair and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” to keep the old folks awake and semi-engaged. Less a movie than an exercise in extreme product placement, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” will make anyone over the age of four shout something a little saltier than Dave’s trademark “Alvin!” screech.
The chipmunks don’t make very good movies, but hey, at least they’re cute.
Christmas will soon be here and with it comes the usual assortment of movies that seem to exist only to create a demand for stuffed toys, talking pens and soundtracks. First out of the gate this year is Alvin and the Chipmunks, starring Jason “My Name is Earl” Lee as a struggling songwriter who discovers three talented chipmunks—Alvin, Simon and Theodore—living in his house and rides their little furry coattails to the top of the music charts.
Brought to you by the director of Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Alvin and the Chipmunks is as good as you would imagine a movie from the director of Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties to be.
A compact ninety minutes, it has the prerequisite ”heartwarming” family values message and is jam packed with all the stuff calculated to make kids laugh—loads of slapstick, poo jokes and goofy songs—the trouble is, the audience of kids I saw it with wasn’t laughing much. That’s because there’s nothing clever or interesting about Alvin and the Chipmunks. It’s aimed directly at kids, but feels more like the target is their parent’s pocketbook. The entire movie feels like a big-budget commercial for Chipmunk’s merchandise; a way to influence little Johnny’s Christmas wish list.
It’s ironic because the movie comes with a stern anti-consumerist message. In one of the most obvious postmodern examples of life imitating art, the big-screen Chipmunks are exploited by their evil manager who tries to suck every dollar out of their popularity by marketing Chipmunk’s dolls and other products. It all feels a bit hypocritical.
Alvin and the Chipmunks will likely do well at the box office trading on its family appeal and the nostalgic goodwill generated by the name, but despite its hip cast—Jason Lee, Justin Long, David Cross and Jesse McCartney—it is little more than a holiday money grab.
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.