Junk Food
'Chipmunks' movie looks great, but doesn't satisfy

Alvin and the Chipmunks (PG)

1 1/2 stars out of 4

With virtually every other baby boomer-era sitcom and cartoon series having already been mined for movie script material, Hollywood has officially hit the bottom of the barrel with "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

Not even that popular with most boomers the first time around, "Alvin" was moderately successful then for the same reason it might be now: cute little chipmunks with high-pitched voices who sing, dance and crack wise.

You really can't blame the suits at Fox for giving this one a shot. With special effects and CGI being so good these days, marketing a movie for children who've never even heard of rodents Alvin, Simon and Theodore is a gamble worth taking. On a technical level, the movie is spectacular. The computer-drawn title characters look and sound perfect; that is, with the caveat that "perfect" is a relative term.

Knocking down his well-earned "My Name is Earl" credibility an entire notch in the process, Jason Lee stars as Dave Seville, a mostly untalented L.A. songwriter desperate for success. He regularly submits demos of his work to smarmy record executive and childhood friend Ian (David Cross), who mercilessly shoots him down.

After his most recent metaphorical flogging, Dave unknowingly brings the Chipmunks back to his home, where he discovers their musical talents. Certain he's stumbled upon the greatest act since the Beatles, Dave presents Ian with the Chipmunks.

But Alvin, Simon and Theodore quickly clam up, citing stage fright. Realizing they've left Dave in the lurch, the boys break into Ian's home, show him their stuff and become overnight stars.

Without knowing or trying to do so, the Chipmunks again leave Dave in the dust as Ian takes over their careers and proceeds to milk their short shelf-life popularity for all it's worth.

In addition to covering some recent, lyrically questionable songs, the Chipmunks also rework their only two "hits." The novelty holiday song "Christmas Don't Be Late" is given only minor modern embellishments, while the snappy "Witch Doctor" is turned into a hip-hop anthem. Retooling old songs is nothing new, and updating the Chipmunks' limited back catalog doesn't even approach musical sacrilege, but it does come across as shallow and unimaginative.

Hopefully the kids won't notice, but the movie is also loaded with blatant, mostly negative product placement. Multiple images of junk food and bad breakfast substitutes run rampant, and director Tim Hill is even able to work in multiple video images from "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie," which he wrote. This is particularly impressive as the "Spongebob" movie was actually produced by a rival studio.

Bottom line: this is far from ideal holiday family entertainment. It's not done in bad taste; it's just not very good, original or captivating. Like the empty calories of the food it so regularly advertises, it will make you feel briefly full but wanting more before you even leave the theater. (Fox)