Alvin and the Chipmunks

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Alvin and the Chipmunks." 

NEW YORK -- Perfectly timed to cash in on the perennial endless radio plays of the classic novelty tune "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late"), this holiday movie presents the furry warblers in all their high-pitched glory.

While "Alvin and the Chipmunks," based on the characters created by Ross Bagdasarian, is not exactly the lavish big-screen effort one might have hoped for in the roughly 50 years since they made their debut, it should make some coin in a Christmas season surprisingly scarce of family entertainment.

Jason Lee -- sans the porn star mustache he sports as television's Earl -- stars as Dave Seville, the harassed songwriter whose annoyed cry of "Alvin!!!!" is dutifully re-created here in the presentation of the yuletide number.

This combination of live action and CGI animation delivers a somewhat updated version of the critters, as evidenced by the poster featuring them in sunglasses and hoodies. Besides their trademark number, they also deliver fun renditions of such songs as "Funkytown" and "Bad Day."

There's no small irony in the fact that the scenario for this highly commercialized endeavor deals with the Chipmunks being exploited by a greedy record producer (a very amusing David Cross) who showers them with expensive toys -- this being a family film, no blow or hookers are preferred -- and even resorts to such shady practices as, gasp, having them lip-synch during their long-awaited live concert debut.

What any of this will mean to the target kiddie audience is anybody's guess, though admittedly in this "Hannah Montana"/"High School Musical"-dominated era their showbiz sophistication shouldn't be underestimated.

As the songwriter whose career is rescued by the singing rodents -- his songs about "the abyss of death" just weren't cutting it -- Lee uses his laid-back likability to good effect, even if he seems barely interested in the requisite romantic subplot involving Dave's attempts to rekindle his relationship with his beautiful blond ex-girlfriend (Cameron Di ... I mean Richardson).

Most of the film revolves around the lovable furry scamps Alvin, Simon and Theodore getting into all sorts of slapstick trouble as they climb up the show business ladder to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, as rendered here by the average-looking CGI effects, the characters are underwhelming in their appeal, lacking the charm of their previous animated incarnations. And it's hard to imagine why they are voiced by such familiar names as actor Justin Long and pop star Jesse McCartney because the helium-high vocals are virtually undistinguishable.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
Fox
Fox 2000, Regency Enterprises, Bagdasarian Prods.
Credits:
Director: Tim Hill
Screenwriters: Jon Vitti, Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi
Producers: Ross Bagdasarian Jr., Janice Karman
Executive producers: Karen Rosenfelt, Arnon Milchan, Michele Imperator Stabile, Steve Waterman
Director of photography: Peter Lyons Collister
Production designer: Richard Holland
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Editor: Peter E. Berger
Cast:
Dave Seville: Jason Lee
Ian Hawk: David Cross
Claire: Cameron Richardson
Voices:
Alvin: Justin Long
Simon: Matthew Gray Gubler
Theodore: Jesse McCartney
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA rating: PG

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