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Audience problems turn the Chipmunks' 'Road Chip' into road rash
Theodore, Alvin and Simon go on a wild road chip in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. - photo by Josh Terry
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP 1 star Jason Lee, Bella Thorne, Kimberly Williams-Paisley; voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney; PG (some mild crude humor); in general release

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip is the cinematic equivalent of an air ball. It doesnt matter how pretty your form is or how expensive your shoes are; if youre aiming the ball at the wrong target, the result is going to look really, really bad.

Companies like Pixar and Dreamworks have spent years crafting kid-friendly fare that appeals to the youngsters in the audience while keeping their adult guardians entertained. But the strangest thing about The Road Chip is the amount of time and energy spent trying to appeal to an audience that will never bother to see the film.

This is a movie meant for children small children yet it is packed with enough contemporary pop culture references that you get the feeling director Walt Beckers target audience is millennials. Most anyone else is ignored.

Granted, we are talking about a trio of talking, singing chipmunks who at least in this cinematic universe have become so successful that their girl-band equivalent is hosting American Idol. In that sense, seeing Alvin and company perform an improptu cover of Uptown Funk almost makes sense.

But how many people even millennials are going to catch a cameo from exploitation director John Waters and a joke about Pink Flamingos?

Anyway, heres the plot: the chipmunks roommate/guardian/sidekick Dave (Jason Lee) has a girlfriend named Shira (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Shira has a son (Miles, played by Josh Green) who enjoys torturing chipmunks. Dave and Shira leave on a trip to Miami, and Dave brings an engagement ring. The chipmunks panic, and try to foil Daves plan.

The foil part involves sneaking onto a flight, which brings them in the crosshairs of a sky marshal named Benson (Tony Hale). So, once the cross-country flight is brought down prematurely, the chase becomes a road trip, hence the pun Road Chip.

As you might expect, the entire effort is dotted with a variety of musical interludes, some short, some long, all dependent on the novelty of hearing a familiar song performed with abnormally high-pitched vocals. Somehow this novelty has spawned four feature-length films.

No one is bringing their acting A-game to the table here. The chipmunk performances are indistinguishable. (For what its worth, Alvin is voiced by Justin Long, Simon by Matthew Gray Gubler, and Theodore is handled by Jesse McCartney.) You do have to give the live actors credit for being patient enough to provide cringe-inducing reaction shots for invisible characters that will be added digitally in post-production. But assessing the quality of said digital characters almost feels beyond the point.

For a film like this, you must consider the perspective of what should be its intended audience. The verdict? From about 45 minutes into the pre-screening, there was lots of rustling about and complaining voices until The Road Chips drawn-out conclusion (which included multiple false endings). The only thing to get consistent laughs were the multiple times Dave yelled out Alvin! and according to one insightful 4-year-old in attendance, the bad guy (Hale) was too scary.

So there you have it. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip spent all of its energy trying to entertain an audience that will hate it regardless and ignored the audience that might have justified it.

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" is rated PG for some mild crude humor; running time: 86 minutes.
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