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Movie Review

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

‘Chipmunks’ stranded without a one-liner in sight

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By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / December 16, 2011
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You know there is something wrong with a movie when even David Cross in a giant pelican suit isn’t funny.

Of course, the young’uns attending an advance screening of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked’’ last week still enjoyed themselves loudly. But to grown-up eyes (and by that we mean anyone over age 9), the third film in the current series looks like a rote, uninspired commercial product. The little ones laughed and cheered the Chipmunks’ acrobatic antics, but there’s not one plot twist or even a Cross one-liner that comes as a surprise. Even parents who can handle the characters’ squeaky voices may want to bring a book and wait for the kids in the lobby.

“Chipwrecked’’ is directed by Mike Mitchell (“Shrek Forever After’’), with a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, veterans of both the “Chipmunks’’ and “Kung Fu Panda’’ franchises. Actor Jason Lee once again cashes a paycheck playing Dave, guardian to the famous singing chipmunks Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, and to “Chipettes’’ Eleanor, Jeanette, and Brittany. As the movie opens, they all board a cruise ship en route to a big music-awards show where the ’munks will perform. Also on board is the group’s resentful former manager, Ian (the aforementioned Cross), now reduced to working as the ship’s feathered mascot.

Due to one of rambunctious Alvin’s hijinks-gone-wrong, Dave, Ian, and the Chipmunks end up stranded on a tropical island. Of course, there is a volcano, a lost treasure, and a log bridge across a deep gorge. Jenny Slate (“Bored to Death’’) plays a longtime castaway on the island, and she’s just nutso enough to make you want to see her in a better movie.

During their island adventures, Alvin and the other chipmunks learn responsibility and Dave learns to give them a little more of it. It’s a decent lesson for children. And that’s what the Chipmunks are here, surrogates for their audience, enacting their fears and crushes and dreams of musical stardom. Dave even calls them “kids’’ sometimes.

Alas, the three male ’munks get more active roles than the appearance-minded Chipettes. And the movie goes astray in the message department with a shipboard nightclub scene that finds Eleanor, Jeanette, and Brittany in a dance-floor throwdown with three mean girls. For a few minutes there, the movie turns into “Jersey Shore’’ with (more) fur. But if you have been waiting for the chance to see six computer-animated chipmunks squeak out a Lady Gaga cover, this is the film for you.

Those squeaky voices, by the way, are provided by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, and Christina Applegate. Whatever character they bring to their lines, the actors’ voices are mostly unrecognizable after being digitally ’munk-ified.

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.

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ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: Chipwrecked

Directed by: Mike Mitchell

Written by: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, based on characters by Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman

Starring: Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 85 minutes

Rated: G

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