Since first emerging in 1958 with the novelty smash "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," Ross Bagdasarian's squeaky voiced-trio Alvin and the Chipmunks have sold over 70 million albums worldwide, starred in a hit Saturday morning TV show and had their furry mugs plastered on everything from bubble gum to cigarette lighters. So it was really only a matter of time, given the recent explosion of live-action, CGI-enhanced talking animal flicks like Garfield, Scooby-Doo and Underdog, until The Chipmunks made the leap to the big screen, as they do this week with the highly forgettable Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Jason Lee (TV's My Name is Earl) stars as Dave Seville, a wannabe songwriter living alone -- he thinks-- in a cozy apartment in Los Angeles. His presumption of solitude is abruptly shattered, however, when he stumbles upon three talking critters who share his home: brash, mischievous Alvin (Justin Long), cerebral Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and chubby, needy Theodore (Jesse McCartney). In addition to a fondness for waffles and a tendency toward mischief, the three rodent brothers share a love of singing -- a skill they demonstrate for Dave with an impromptu a capella rendition of "Funkytown." (I didn't think it was possible to hate that song any more than I already did -- until I heard it The Chipmunks sing it.) Sensing an opportunity, Dave collaborates with his chipmunk housemates on a saccharine pop tune -- "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" -- that soon becomes a massive hit, transforming all four of them into instant celebrities. All seems well in the Seville household until Dave's impressionable young protégés come under the spell of sleazy record exec Ian (David Cross), who attempts to lure them away with promises of all the toys and waffles they desire.
While entertaining in fits and inoffensive enough to serve as 90-minute Holiday diversion for the family, Alvin and the Chipmunks is ultimately a hollow, trite, almost entirely humorless affair. Mr. Show veteran Cross manages to sneak in some funny lines, but star Lee mails it in with a substandard performance, failing to establish chemistry with either his real or computer-animated counterparts. But Lee isn't even the worst aspect of Alvin and the Chipmunks. That ignominious distinction belongs to the music performances -- featuring excruciating "updates" of "Witch Doctor," "The Chipmunk Song" and the aforementioned "Funkytown" -- each of which felt like torrent of hydrochloric acid flooding my ear canals. I fear that my auditory capacities might never recover.
Disagree? Let me know at tleupp@Reelz.com.