The grating, helium-pitched sound of barely passable children’s entertainment returns to movie theaters in a familiar and mercifully brisk package. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip is the as clever-as-its-title fourth (yes, fourth!) installment of this live action and CGI hybrid franchise, in which Dave (a dejected Jason Lee) plays guardian to the trio of singing, farting forest animals.
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (voiced respectively by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney – not that you can tell) worry that Dave might replace the ‘Munks after he introduces the boys to his new girlfriend Shira (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) – the kind of open heart surgeon who wears her stethoscope to mini-golf – and her “evil” son Miles (Josh Green). After Alvin finds Dave with an engagement ring, the Chipmunks team up with their new nemesis Miles to travel to Miami and stop their parents from marrying.
Along the way, Alvin and the gang provoke the ire of Benson the Air Marshal (Tony Hale), by setting loose pet animals on their cross-country flight. Unlike his CGI counterparts, Benson physically interacts with the world around him, allowing Hale moments to utilize his knack for awkward physical comedy. Some of Hale’s bug-eyed, broad reactions might be cringingly simple-minded, and Benson never presents the Chipmunks with any real danger, but Hale’s is the lone lead performance that plays up the dumb comedy.
The Chipmunks themselves have surprisingly little to do in their own movie. As the franchise continues to pull songs from the pop charts in its attempt at relevancy, the soundtrack has turned to EDM-inspired tracks with minimal vocal parts and long instrumental breaks. During several of the crowded dance scenes, the tiny Chipmunks’ microscopic dance moves are hard to distinguish from the sea of swaying bodies surrounding them.
There is no real effort to avoid conventions, either. The punch lines are entirely predictable, the Chipmunks and Miles learn to overcome their differences by working together and all minor conflicts are neatly resolved. In several moments, the storyline would simply end if the characters had opted to be honest with one another.
This is a world in which a group of rodent singers – who sound like a cassette as it’s fast-forwarded – can alternately be adored and ignored by the public. Maybe it’s no coincidence that most of Alvin and the Chipmunks’ performance spaces – a rowdy bar, a Mardi Gras parade, and a Miami nightclub – are all places in which adults drink to excess.
Some of the songs work here better than others – particularly the movie’s brass-heavy cover of “Uptown Funk.” The musical interludes are often truncated versions of the real songs, which along with the economic approach to expositional dialog, keeps most scenes short. At 86 minutes long, this is the shortest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie among these iterations from 20th Century Fox.
Aside from the movie’s cameo appearances from LMFAO’s Redfoo as well as John Waters – with a surprisingly funny Pink Flamingos reference thrown in – this is a kid-focused, bright, loud, silly time. The Road Chip won’t make any children smarter, and it’s not trying to impart subtly important messages, but it might keep rambunctious 5-year-olds still for an hour and a half.
Set to open as a smart piece of counter-programming for families with children too young to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip has already cemented its spot in movie history. Unfortunately, though, it’s as a box office footnote.
The off-putting CGI Chipmunks coast through a derivative, squeaky-voiced adventure with fleeting moments of charm.