Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Walt Becker
Stars: voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Kaley Cuoco, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, with Jason Lee, Tony Hale, Josh Green, Kimberley Williams-Paisley, Jennifer Coolidge, Bella Thorne.
Somewhat cleverly and punningly subtitled The Road Chip, this fourth instalment in clever mix of live action and CGI featuring the pneumatic voiced singing chipmunks Alvin and his brothers, is actually something of an improvement on the previous effort Chipwrecked.
As usual the trio of CGI created singing chipmunks (again voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney) cause mischief and mayhem. And their grating, helium pitched form of singing is both annoying and almost incomprehensible as they mangle some popular songs. But younger audiences seem to love their antics.
Their manager and long suffering guardian Dave (played once again by My Name Is Earl‘s Jason Lee) heads off to Miami to help promote his latest singing protege Ashley (played by Bella Thorne) and is accompanied by his latest girlfriend, a heart surgeon named Samantha (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, from Father Of The Bride, etc), who seems to absent-mindedly wear her stethoscope everywhere. The three believe that Dave plans to propose to Samantha while in Florida, and fear that he will then abandon them.
Even worse though is the prospect of Samantha’s evil teenage son Miles (Josh Green) becoming their step sibling. They have already had a number of humiliating run-ins with Miles, whose contempt for the chipmunks is obvious as he seems to enjoy tormenting them. But the four set out to sabotage the proposal. They busk their way across Texas and New Orleans, and along the way they bond and form a strong frienship.
Miles and the three furry friends also run afoul of Suggs (Tony Hale, from tv series Veep, Arrested Development, etc) a bumbling federal air marshal whose dogged pursuit brings a cartoonish quality to the material, and the physical punishment he endures is reminiscent of the classic Road Runner cartoons. There is plenty of broad slapstick humour and physical pratfalls at the expense of his character, and the sight gags will appeal to younger audiences. Hale throws himself into the role with relish and his frantic and increasingly manic presence is one of the highlights of the film.
Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Road Chip is a fairly derivative and predictable journey. However, the script is also laden with plenty of clever pop cultural references, clever one-liners and some subversive touches, such as a cameo from film director John Waters, which may go over the head of younger audiences.
As usual, the human cast are largely overshadowed by the antics of the CGI created chipmunks. Regular Jason Lee doesn’t get to do much but express his frustration and disappointment at the antics of Alvin, Theodore and Simon. Jennifer Coolidge (best known for playing Stifler’s mum in the American Pie movies) is wasted in a thankless role as Dave’s nosy next door neighbour. The Chipmunk’s female equivalents the Chipettes (voiced by Kaley Cuoco, replacing Amy Poehler who has moved on to other projects, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate) are also largely sidelined for much of the proceedings here given their judging duties on American Idol.
The director is Walt Becker (who put Ryan Reynolds through his paces in the raunchy Van Wilder: Party Liaison, etc) and he maintains a fairly fast pace throughout. Subtlety is not his strong suit though, although he does seem to recognise that the demographic for this one is a lot different, and he does dumb down a lot of the fart jokes. And he brings an energy to the physical comedy. At a brisk and relatively brief running time of just 86 minutes the film never quite outstays its welcome.