Jason Lee is better than this.
Granted, you wouldn’t know it from his leaden performance in “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” the latest in a series of Saturday morning TV cartoons lazily adapted for the big screen. Here, the “My Name Is Earl” star, whose spirited turn in “Mallrats” remains a feat of brazen beauty, seems distant and uninterested, though he can hardly be blamed.
Even with Lee and “Mr. Show” co-creator David Cross, who earns the film’s only laughs as a dryly disingenuous record executive hoping to capitalize on the Chipmunks’ musical talents, Tim Hill’s take on the long-dormant franchise never finds its comic footing. There are obvious sight gags milked for all their dubious worth — Alvin, Simon and Theodore, digitally rendered rodents with a passion for pop music and waffles, are skilled in the art of well-intentioned mischief and leave a trail of destruction in their wake. But there is precious little in the way of inspiration.
Naturally, the Chipmunks become embroiled in the cutthroat world of the music industry — no surprise there, given their propensity for high-pitched crooning. Dave (Lee), a struggling musician, encourages them to hone their songwriting skills in the comfort of his home studio; Ian (Cross) would rather market them as a boy band and sell them to the public through an all-out media blitz.
Will kids like it? Maybe. The musical numbers are virtually indistinguishable from the bubble-gum pop peddled so artlessly, and the Chipmunks have been retooled with a touch of modern-day attitude. But Alvin and the gang are hardly sophisticated enough to hold the attention of adults, even those weaned on the modestly amusing cartoon created half a century ago by songwriter Ross Bagdasarian.
Alvin and the Chipmunks *½
Starring Jason Lee, David Cross
Directed by Tim Hill
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes