One asks themselves a lot of questions when they watch Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, the fourth installment in the modernized re-imagining of David Seville’s shall-we-say “iconic” rodent creation. Beyond simple existential quandaries like “What am I doing here, at 10 AM on a Saturday, watching an Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel surrounded by children I’ll never know?” or “What is the point of anything, really,” the latest from Walt Becker, the filmmaker behind celebrated hits like Wild Hogs and Old Dogs, raises more-than-a-few questions on its own terms.
For instance, what is Redfoo — one half of LMFAO — doing in here exactly, particularly if the producers feel insecure about having anyone say the name of his namesake? Is it appropriate to hear about chipmunks, both male and female, talking about “getting juicy?” Why must Jennifer Coolidge be dragged into such an unforgiving role as the clueless neighbor to our titular leads for less than three scenes? Why did you fly John Waters into Hollywood for a 30-second cameo in a PG-rated 2015 studio film? How many 10-year-olds would even have a clue what he’s done, and who are these deprived, filthy little beings? On that note, how did Alvin watch Pink Flamingos, as he confesses here? Why would his dad/owner/producer allow him to watch such a film, if he did? Sure, a man-in-drag eating dog shit isn’t likely to gross out our vermin the same way it did for moviegoers in 1972. He’s still an outdoor critter at heart, no matter what hot accessories he wears or how much of a domesticated celebrity he may be. But is he even a celebrity anymore?
The movie can’t decide. He and his hoodie-wearing, English-speaking, pop-tunes harmonizing chipmunks brothers are both common enough to not have anyone bat an eye in your average cowboy-themed, mid-Austin bar or walking down some hot Miami sidewalk, and yet not popular enough to be recognized for their musical accomplishments unless it’s necessary for the plot. Forgive me, “plot.” But it’s hard to remember how famous they even were in the last one, let alone here. It’s hard to remember anything about these movies, in fact, as they all tend to bleed together in a muddled, hyper-manic, auto-tuned heavy mess after a while. I suppose there’s an audience, but unless you hang out a lot in public elementary schools, it’s unlikely you’re in tune with this movie’s release. Why are these films still released in theaters anyway? Wouldn’t there be just as big of a market for these movies on home video?
I’m getting ahead of myself, I guess. I suppose there’s no real need to get too deep in thought into these movies. Much like the Ice Age movies, their existence is solely defined on what clever title pun 20th Century Fox executives can create. I hope the next one focuses on Dave’s intense drive to push Alvin, Simon and Theodore to musical perfection in Chiplash, personally. Since Road Chip sounds a little like Road Trip, it’s time for the gag to hit the road. When they discover their owner/producer/father-figure Dave is going to prematurely propose to his girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) during a business trip to Miami — where he’ll work with his new client Ashley Greene (Bella Thorne) and visit the Chipettes, the new hosts of American Idol, because Fox — the Chipmunks round up their potential soon-to-be brother-in-law Miles (Josh Greene) on the nearest plane to LA. But when their tomfoolery gets them into wacky hi-jinks on a plane, they upset obsessive air marshal Agent Suggs (Tony Hale, the next sad Arrested Development cast member to take the villain reigns after David Cross declined to return for a fourth time), they must come up with different ways to sing and dance their way towards their destination, all while Suggs follows them city-after-city after they indirectly destroyed his life several years prior. Poor karaoke renditions, half-hearted emotional beats and uninspired pop culture references ensue.
It’s a merciless onslaught of poor taste, lazy/non-existent writing and half-assery on all accounts. Not that anyone expected anything more at this point, but by now, it’s especially tedious. There’s never any desire to create any stakes, wit, intelligence, personality, soul or charisma at any chance. It’s among the most assembly line comedy Hollywood could possibly make at this point. It practically stoops below the Disney Channel with its mid-‘90s-esque inclusion of easy bathroom gags, heartless fart jokes, monkey (and goat) shenanigans on a plane and, perhaps the greatest family film sin of all, an entirely generic, borderline monotonous rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s timeless classic “Baby Got Back.”
It gets worse. Lee can barely keep his eyes open by this point, let alone deliver the much-anticipated “AAALLLLLLVVVVIIIINNN” bellow at full-throttle for the fourth hundred time or, once again, have to argue, reason, beg or pled with characters who don’t exist in front of him until post-production. If that weren’t heartbreaking enough, did I mention there’s also a mini-My Name is Earl reunion here with co-star Eddie Steeples? He’s given nothing to do here, of course. But what is there to do in these movies, except to grab the paycheck by the end? Everyone basically phones it in to the best of their potential, save for an abrasively-game Hale and a delightful-as-always Waters. The former’s eagerness to play every pratfall, stunt, yell or bug-eyed stare to the fullest of his potential not only comes in stark contrast to the striking indifference Cross brought to the previous films, but also makes the performance seem all the more pitifully desperate as a result. The man’s won an Emmy, for Christ’s sake. Can’t he do anything that doesn’t revolve around tired drunk tattoo reveals and screaming at the top of his lungs? It’s just embarrassing, quite frankly.
But it’s more than that. It’s uncomfortable, nauseating and, worse of all, plain careless studio filmmaking. This is a series that’s never had any contempt for its audience, but now it flat-out refuses to respect them in any way, shape or form. It assumes that by putting out the minimalist amount of effort, it can succeed in simply getting by on name recognition and marketability. It’s shameless, despicably lazy cash grabbing at its dingiest. Nobody cares enough to make it worth the time and effort to earn any attention, so why am I still going on about it? I hope this is the end of the road for the Alvin and the Chipmunks live-action franchise, but something tells me that — as long as there are bland pop songs to be sung and money to be snatched — the chipmunks will find a place to burrow themselves in multiplexes everywhere.