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Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

by PETER HARTLAUB San Francisco Chronicle | December 18, 2015 at 2:25 a.m.
Chipmunks Alvin, Theodore and Simon face yet another challenge during their eventful journey in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip was made by a director, two screenwriters, two producers and five production companies. Judging by the jarringly muddled finished product, it seems doubtful any two of them were ever in the same room at the same time.

Alvin and Simon and lots of product placements star in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, the fourth in the series that mixes computer animation and live action.

At this point, four movies into a re-imagining that started in 2007, there's no need to deviate from the lazy but lucrative formula. There's a completely contrived conflict, caused by the ineptitude of the protagonists (check), a bad guy who acts without logic in service of the plot (check), a chipmunk version of "Baby Got Back" (check) ...

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

67 Cast: Jason Lee, Tony Hale, Kimberly Williams-Paisley; voices of Justin Long, Kaley Cuoco, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney

Director: Walt Becker

Rating: PG, for some mild rude humor

Running time: 86 minutes

In truth, The Road Chip is only the second-worst Alvin sequel. (I've reviewed them all. It goes, from best to worst: 1. First Alvin movie; 2. Chipwrecked; 3. The Road Chip; and 4. The Squeakquel. I hated that film. The Highlander 2 of Chipmunk movies.)

Here's one more positive: The Alvin movies keep getting shorter -- from 93 minutes to 89 to 87 to 86 this time around. In a few years, all you'll have to do is take your kid to the theater and look at an Alvin movie poster for a few seconds. Then you can go watch The Iron Giant or E.T. or something else that doesn't rely on rodent flatulence jokes to keep young attention spans.

It's a harsh assessment for a movie that is generally benign. There are moments of sweetness, and a few of the jokes hit. But this is an age of family filmmaking where effort and storytelling are becoming more of a constant. From Inside Out and The Lego Movie to Big Hero 6 -- hell, even Minions -- there seems to be a commitment to simultaneously entertaining children and adults. Four movies in, audiences would feel that something was amiss if there weren't a blow to the private parts in an Alvin sequel. It would be like a Mad Max movie without any cars.

The Road Chip features Dave (salute to Jason Lee, for continuing to make an effort) leaving the boys behind in Los Angeles while he goes to Miami, just after he introduces them to a new girlfriend and her teenage son. Worried that Dave will get engaged and start a new family, the four travel across country to break up an assumed engagement.

A tour of product placement and regional stereotypes follows, before the ending arrives -- an ending that could have been cleared up by a phone call at the beginning of the movie. And now, a nation waits for another sequel with a fifth play on words. May I suggest Alvin and the Chipmunks: Retire-munk Home?

Yes, the life expectancy of a chipmunk maxes out at 10 years in captivity. So biologically, we must be coming toward the end of this franchise.

That's not the type of thing a critic looks up when filmmakers make more of an effort.

MovieStyle on 12/18/2015

Print Headline: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

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