It’s strange to recall that 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” wasn’t just a standard, “it’s winter, get me out of the house” hit, but one of the highest grossing films of that year. Seems Chipmunk fever was waiting for the proper moment to strike back from cultural obscurity. Two years later we have the goofily titled “Squeakquel,” which tries to replicate the…er, magic of the original film by repeating essentially the same story, only updating the pop tunes performed and the lead character. Otherwise, it’s the same chipmunk business, only the novelty, if there was any to begin with, has worn away.
During a charity concert in Paris, Dave (Jason Lee) is mangled in a horrible stage accident, leaving The Chipmunks, Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gulber), and Theodore (Jess McCartney) without a guardian. Enter Dave’s nephew, Toby (Zachary Levi), a bumbling gamer with little interest in responsibility, forced to make sure the pop superstars start attending high school. Waiting in the dark is disgraced record executive Ian (David Cross), who comes across The Chipettes, Brittany (Christina Applegate), Jeanette (Anna Faris), and Eleanor (Amy Poehler), a lively team of singing rodents. Ian, smelling a comeback, cons the Chipettes into a contract, while the Chipmunks deal with their own troubles at school, where the local cliques threaten to break up the trio for good.
Admittedly, I wasn’t throw-a-chair-out-of-the-window angry with “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” finding it more labored and crude than reassuringly atrocious. “The Squeakquel” is a step backwards if that’s even possible, boasting DTVish production value, limited imagination, and trying performances. However, Jason Lee has wisely wiggled his way out of duty, as old short-fuse Dave Seville is absent for a majority of this adventure, leaving the Chipmunks in the hands of Zachary Levi.
Levi, star of the NBC show “Chuck,” is an appalling comedian, imagining himself somewhere between Mr. Bean and an Xbox Live edition of Jeff Spicoli. In a film of singing and dancing chipmunks, an extended fart joke involving the dreaded “Dutch Oven,” and David Cross finally reliving himself of his pesky dignity (I know Cross likes the money, but there should be a certain limit to screen humiliation), Levi is easily the single worst element of “The Squeakquel,” which speaks to the depths of annoyance the actor plummets to. The cartoons show more wit and ease with a punchline than this guy.
“The Squeakquel” attempts to develop the Chipmunks past their touring fortunes by moving the action to high school. The screenplay doesn’t offer much besides a routine of bullies, swirlies, and a big head for Alvin as he’s accepted by the football team, infusing him with popularity that alienates Simon and Theodore. The addition of the Chipettes is lazily tacked on; the ladies seem hustled into the picture due to a drought of creativity, not to raise the comedic tension. The Chipettes serve a function for the soundtrack as well, permitting the producers to gorge on female hitmakers to munkify, including omnipresent tunes from Beyonce and Katy Perry.
There’s enough oddity in “The Squeakquel” to wonder if the screenwriters weren’t bored out of their minds, looking to entertain themselves. The weirdness includes Alvin quoting “Silence of the Lambs” at the big football game (along with “Taxi Driver” during a dodgeball skirmish), a reference to pole dancing, making Theodore a devout fan of “Meerkat Manor,” and serving up a bewildering cameo by a creature known as “Digger the NASCAR gopher.”
Well, at least nobody sucks on a turd, which was one of the more repulsive lowlights of the original picture. Obviously kids won’t care what “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” adds up to, but as a film critic and a firm parental sympathizer, there’s a world of adventure out there for The Chipmunks to enjoy. This sequel, ahem, “Squeakquel,” keeps matters depressingly routine and tired. The Chipmunks may be pint-sized and adorable, but we’ve all seen this song and dance before.