Directed by Walt Becker. Produced by Janice Karman and Ross Bagdasarian. Written by Randi Mayem Singer and Adam Sztykiel. Release date: December 18, 2015.
While all three previous Alvin and the Chipmunks movies (of the live-action variety, that is) have been pretty terrible, I’ve never found myself outright hating them. For me, that’s an odd thing, since almost everything about them – the voices of the main characters, the cheesy dialogue, the awful humor, some of the worst integration of CGI characters in a live-action world ever, poor acting, and unimaginative plotting – seems like a perfect cocktail designed to send me into a fit of rage. But, at least three films in, I felt almost completely apathetic toward the live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks movies.
However, now we’re are the fourth, The Road Chip, the first installment in a few years, and I think I’ve finally reached the breaking point – or I’m getting significantly closer to it. The Road Chip is just as bad as any previous installment, and is bad in pretty much the same ways I mentioned above. It’s annoying, not funny, has an awful plot, and the CGI still doesn’t work with the live-action stuff. But now, instead of there being three bad movies, we now have four. That’s another 90 minutes of awful filling cinema screens, the eyes of parents and children alike, and eventually the shelves of various retailers. A foot eventually needs to be put down.
The plot, which feels lifted from any children’s television show in which there’s a single parent involved, sees Alvin (voice of Justin Long), Simon (voice of Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) go on a road trip to Miami in order to stop their adoptive “father,” Dave (Jason Lee) from proposing to his girlfriend, Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), because they hate her son, Miles (Josh Green). For Miles, the feeling is mutual, so they team up with him to put a halt to any potential that a union between the two families will take place.
You’ll be shocked – shocked! – to discover that, as the journey takes place and hijinks take place, Miles and the chipmunks find themselves genuinely bonding – to the point that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn’t stop any potential engagement. Oh, and they’re being chased by Agent Suggs (Tony Hale), an air marshal who hates the chipmunks because of some tangential relationship to a breakup he went through. He’s there to overact, be silly, and provide the film with some semblance of a villain, even though he can’t be taken seriously.
The Road Chip feels as if it belongs as a 30-minute television episode, not a 90-minute movie. It has more potential endings than the extended cut of Return of the King because it keeps finding reasons to try to justify its running time. Add in the out-of-place cover versions of songs, the repetitive “Dave gets mad at them but not really because he has no spine” scenes, and you can probably figure out that the film feels far longer than it is.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip is as bad as the rest of them, which should surprise nobody old enough to read this review.
As computer-generated effects continue to get better and cheaper, the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise fails to understand how that works. The Road Chip has the largest budget of the franchise, and yet it probably looks the worst, at least when the actual chipmunks are concerned. They look so out-of-place in the real world. I know; I’m complaining about talking, singing chipmunks not looking like they belong. But there’s more to it than just the bad CGI. It’s the way they interact with the environment and the live-action actors, too. They don’t do much with the sets except bounce around them, occasionally interacting with one or two objects. And the actors often look lost when trying to either do something with, or talk to, the chipmunks.
So, if the budget wasn’t spent making the CGI look good, or even competent, then where was the money spent? Well, probably the cast. This is something I’ve never understood about this franchise. You hire actors like Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, and Kaley Cuoco (replacing Amy Poehler, whom nobody even knew was in the franchise, further proving my point), and you make their voices unrecognizable when turning them into the chipmunks. So, then, why hire these name actors? You sometimes can’t even understand what they’re saying or singing! The distinct voice you’re hiring doesn’t come through in the final product. Anyone can sound like any one of these chipmunks thanks to computers. Why spend millions on the vocal cast for something Joe Blow off the street can do for a $50 bill and a sandwich?
Or, perhaps the money went so that they could license “them songs the kids love,” like “Uptown Funk.” Because who doesn’t want to hear Alvin and the Chipmunks do a rendition of “Uptown Funk” – although with at least one word edited, because it’s a kid’s movie and why would you pick a kid-friendly song when you can just edit words like you’re a word-genie? The soundtrack tells me that most of the songs in the film are licensed, and almost none of them are songs that your under-5 will love. The only one they’re likely to enjoy is the one that comes near the end – a rare highlight in a series that is nearly devoid of them, and even it comes with its own issues, like product placement and, best as I can tell, teleportation for it all to happen.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip is as bad as the rest of them, which should surprise nobody old enough to read this review. It has some of the worst integration of CGI characters in a live-action world, it contains some laughably bad dialogue, the actors seem lost – especially when interacting with the chipmunks – the plot feels like it’s been taken from a TV show and stretched to an unbearable length, and most of the music doesn’t fit with the target demographic – unless I’m so out-of-touch that I’m wrong about “Uptown Funk” not being a big hit with the under-5s. Alvin and the Chipmunks works as a TV series, but as a live-action feature film it has yet to succeed.
Bottom Line: Another terrible Alvin and the Chipmunks movie has been made. You get no prizes for guessing that would happen.
Recommendation: The first of these things is still the “best” one, but you’re better off just skipping these and watching the TV show from the ’80s.[rating=1]