From left, Jeanette, Simon, Brittany, Alvin, Eleanor and Theodore in "Alvin… (20th Century Fox )
With "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," I fear the furry singing sensations may have finally run completely aground. If only they were truly stranded on that desert island…
Though the franchise has never been what you'd call high art, there was something of an inspired silliness to the live-action/CGI mash-up that began in 2007 with "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Sadly it seems that streak may have peaked with 2009's "The Squeakquel." Things have gone so far off track in "Chipwrecked," I'm not sure a rescue is in the offing — unless of course the movie is another blockbuster hit, in which case expect to see the boys back, maybe putting on a Broadway musical this time ("Book of Alvin"?).
All the usual suspects are back, starting with Jason Lee as their adoptive dad Dave, David Cross as the evil talent agent Ian, and the two sometimes competing, sometimes collaborating, chipmunk packs (crews? posses?) — Alvin, Simon and Theodore and the Chipettes: Brittany, Jeanette and Eleanor.
Returning to give voice to the critters is some top tier comic talent, including Justin Long, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate and more. But their presence basically goes for naught, with any identifying traits or emotional range lost in the helium squeak of that trademark chipmunk sound.
This time the chaos starts with a family vacation for both Chipmunks and Chipettes, a Carnival-styled cruise picked by Dave. It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the oeuvre that Alvin gets in trouble before the ship even leaves the port. Meanwhile, Ian's career has hit the skids and he's on board as the ship's mascot, a duck that looks eerily like those scuzzy plumped up chickens in Foster Farms ads.
After some Alvin-inspired suntan oil slip-sliding on one of the decks, the kids are pretty much under house arrest. There's a lot of noise about Dave not letting go so the brat pack can grow up. He's conflicted. He has reason to be. When he goes to smooth things over with the ship's captain, all havoc breaks loose.
But we've been promised a Chipwreck, and a hang-gliding incident finally makes it happen. Soon the Chipmunks are spelling out SOS with coconuts and hoping that Dave isn't so angry he won't come looking for them.
Lee keeps Dave as bland as he ever was, though if it's possible he may have made the classic Chipmunk yell — "Alvinnnnn" — even more annoying. Meanwhile, Ian, who has been such a good snake in the grass, has essentially been defanged. The new fly in the ointment is Zoe (Jenny Slate), who's been stranded on the island for years. A big fan of talking over her issues with volleyballs and other sporting goods à la "Castaway," she does seem crazy but not enough to create that sense of dread the movie needs.
The story from screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who wrote the far better "Squeakquel," has some really serious themes running through it about growing up, finding yourself, facing your fears, to name just a few. Try as they might though, the Chipmunks never give the serious stuff the necessary bite.
The real tragedy is the music. One of signatures of the Chipmunks from the beginning back in the late '50s, and the few real pleasures of these films has been the ridiculously funny covers of top pop songs, with their version of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" in "Squeakquel" a classic. In "Chipwrecked," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and "Born This Way" were supposed to be the moneymakers. But when the Chipmunks take them on, the Gaga is gone and it all sounds terribly tame.