December 25, 2009 / by tom
There are certain questions that baffle mankind. Is there a God? Why do you bad things happen to good people? And, in 2007, another was added to this age-old list: Why was Alvin & The Chipmunks a hit? It was a dreary, humorless affair; part of Hollywood’s unending attempts to strip-mine its past…even the parts that really weren’t that great the first time. The Chipmunks sprung from the mind of Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. in the form of the now ubiquitous song The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). Never has a novelty record spawned as many ancillary revenues streams as this one. (And thank God for small favors, otherwise this might be a review of Curly Shuffle: The Movie.) The Chipmunks have had countless albums, multiple TV shows and a long list of direct-to-video movies. (There’s even this odd curio.) The first movie cast Jason Lee as Dave Seville, the group’s manager and de facto father figure, and chronicled the Chipmunks rise to success. [morelink]
As Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel opens, the boys are at the peak of their career playing a sold out stadium gig in Paris. (Though why people would pack a 20,000 seat venue to watch a band that stands roughly five-inches high is never addressed.) During their set, Alvin creates chaos and causes to Dave to be injured. His injuries require him to stay in France so he sends the Chipmunks home and places them under the care of his shy and accident-prone nephew Toby (Zachary Levi). The Chipmunks, at Dave’s insistence, are enrolled in high school. The plot revolves around the school’s attempt to save its music program by winning $25,000 in “battle of the bands.” But the school has an embarrassment of riches as it now can claim both the Chipmunks and their even more recently enrolled female doppelgangers, The Chippettes. It makes one wonder if this music program is worth saving, since apparently the school doesn’t have any actual students talented enough to compete.
As bad as its predecessor was, somehow this movie manages to be even worse. Dave is absent for practically the entire film. He makes cameos in the first and last scene of the film. Other than that, he’s reduced to phone calls home inserted into the film. It looks as if Jason Lee filmed his entire part in literally one day. Levi, whose appearance in the film tells us that he was as surprised as anyone when Chuck didn’t get cancelled, has clearly never acted with CGI characters before. The bulk of his screen time is spent with the Chipmunks and, even though Toby is meant to be awkward, you can tell it’s the actor and not that character who is uncomfortable.
The whole thing has the air of a direct-to-video cash grab like Inspector Gadget 2. While no one expects much in the way of logic from a film like this, even by direct-to-video standards, it’s riddled with nagging questions and poor writing. The Chipmunks are trying to win $25,000 in order to save the school’s music program. But aren’t they big huge rock stars? Couldn’t they just cut a check? And wouldn’t professionals be excluded from a contest like this? Especially professionals that have been attending said school for less than a week? And the Chipmunks spend much of the movie on a quest to be popular at school. Again, they’re huge rock stars who sell out stadiums? They’re already popular. And at the school they attend, they’re picked on by bullies. They’re singled out in dodge ball and given swirlies in the bathroom. Swirlies? Dodgeball? Did these writers go to high school? In the ‘40s?
The “humor” in the film is of the lowest common denominator: pratfalls, fart jokes, crotch shots, random and extremely dated (not to mention lame) pop-culture references. There are not one, not two but three different points in the film when a character ends up in a toilet. And I haven’t even mentioned the musical numbers. If you’ve ever wanted to hear “Single Ladies” on helium, you’re in luck. The music in this movie makes Kidz Bop sound like The Beatles. The whole thing is a loud, crass mess of a movie.