Watching "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip," you start to think it might have been worthwhile to slip in the characters' star-making novelty tune somewhere. At least then it might have felt like the filmmakers were working a tenuous holiday hook, and trying to tap parents' dusty memories of the Chipmunks chittering "Christmas Don't Be Late."
As it stands, there really doesn't seem to be any reason for this listless Chipmunks installment — the fourth in their continuing big-screen revival, if you're counting. There's no curiosity value in seeing them dropped into live-action (or hoodies) anymore. There's not much of a story, either. The movie barely does enough with its trusty road-movie setup to justify the cutesy title.
The more things change, the more they don't for Alvin (Justin Long), bespectacled Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), chubby Theodore (Jesse McCartney), and beleaguered Dave (Jason Lee). The critters' father figure is pushing for some semblance of normalcy in their lives — you know, relatively speaking — but they're more inclined to throw a house party with Redfoo (in an underwhelming, sooo-2011 cameo). Still, Dave is determined to make a go of things with his kindly new doctor girlfriend, Shira (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). So determined, in fact, that he falls for the unctuous sycophancy of her rodent-bullying teenage son, Miles (Josh Green).
When Dave brings Shira along on a work trip to Miami, the Chipmunks become convinced that he's going to marry her and dump them, a suspicion stirred by Miles and his father issues. Setting aside their differences, the kids hop a flight to go thwart the proposal. No real surprise that these mischief-makers also make some unscheduled stops.
You won't mind lingering for an energetic New Orleans jazz parade rendition of "Uptown Funk," which also offers a break from the relentless helium-tweaked hip-hop. Director Walt Becker ("Wild Hogs") puts an amusing twist on Dave's signature "Alviiin!" holler. There's a likably warm and fuzzy message about families formed by chance.
But that about covers it for modest highlights. Tony Hale works diligently to give his angry air marshal a kooky edge, but it was more fun when Hale's "Arrested Development" castmate David Cross was sparring with the Chipmunks previously. And it just feels misguided, not clever, when John Waters is dragged out for a cameo. That's when you know the filmmakers must realize how hopelessly they're caught in a loop-the-loop of punchless comedy.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: The Road Chip
Directed by Walt Becker. Written by Randi Mayem Singer and Adam Sztykiel. Starring Jason Lee, Justin Long, Josh Green, Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 86 minutes. PG (mild rude humor).