Sometimes a movie offers so little entertainment that I’m forced to make my own fun while watching it. In the case of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,” I asked myself a series of questions to resist succumbing to this fourth-parter’s mental-anesthetic effects, such as:
Which company seems to have paid the most for product placement? (“American Idol,” even though it’s only got one season left.) For how many seconds does co-star Jason Lee actually look awake? (Approximately three.) Will I always find Tony Hale bugging his eyes out like a demented pug hilarious? (God, I hope so.) In what alternate universe does this sequel take place, where audiences go gaga over a trio of singing rodents who sound like squeegees rubbing against a dirty car window in harmony? (No clue.)
Failing almost entirely at amusement, “The Road Chip” may be most useful as a lesson for children to be more discerning about their movie choices. (My screening contained quite a few kids, but little of their laughter.) The plot and the stakes hinge on two sticking points that could have been cleared up with a 30-second conversation, but our L.A.-based heroes have a South Beach luxury hotel to plug, so it’s off to Miami we go.
After being told that their surrogate father Dave (Lee) will probably ditch them in the woods after he gets married, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore (voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney, respectively) scheme to prevent their guardian from proposing to his girlfriend Shira (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Dave’s nuptials to Shira would also make her teenage son Miles (Josh Green) their stepbrother — and he already treats them with the casual malevolence of a boy squishing ants out of boredom.
The problem with the furry threesome’s plan is that Dave plans to pop the question in Florida, which means that the chipmunks, even with Miles’ help, have quite a bit of asphalt to cover. A deranged air marshal (Hale) with an irrational grudge against Alvin and his brothers puts them on the no-fly list, then relentlessly pursues them on the ground where, he’s told repeatedly, he has no jurisdiction.
Hale would steal the picture were there anything to be stolen; listening to his voice rise in pitch as his frustration at the universe escalates, especially after getting walloped in the crotch by a chipmunk cannonballing through the air, is a small refuge from the nonstop noise that passes for diversion here. That wall of racket and clamor includes the Chipmunks’ shrill, unfeeling renditions of pop ditties like “Uptown Funk” and “Baby Got Back.”
To his credit, director Walt Becker (“Old Dogs,” “Wild Hogs,” “Buying the Cow” — that’s quite the animal-themed filmography) does allow a few veteran comedic performers — most notably Retta, Uzo Aduba, and Jennifer Coolidge — to eke out flashes of humor during their cameos. (Strangely, no such generosity is shown toward popular sitcom stars Anna Faris, Kaley Cuoco, and Christina Applegate, who play the Chipettes.) Bella Thorne also shows up so the chipmunks have someone to briefly and uncomfortably ogle.
I’ll admit I laughed at one of writers Randi Mayem Singer and Adam Sztykiel‘s many poop and fart jokes — the only one that was a genuine surprise, as opposed to all the cutaway toots that seemed to be there simply because the film’s reason for being is to supply constant stimuli.
More perfunctory still are the numbing dramatic arcs that the chipmunks and Miles undergo to embrace one another as friends and potential family. Perhaps it’s better to choose to be annoyed, since that’s at least a sensation, and “The Road Chip” is so full of unconvincing simulations of emotions that you may temporarily forget what feelings feel like. Numbness or irritation — pick your poison. If there’s another reaction that this cash grab is supposed to elicit, I certainly didn’t experience it.