Headstrong Alvin and his singing brothers, Simon and Theodore, always caused their human dad figure, Dave Seville, some kind of grief, and what wasn't to like about that? So I guess I'm mildly pleased that "Alvin and the Chipmunks," a live-action movie in which the forest rodents are not only computer-generated but disconcertingly reduced to their natural size, otherwise captures the irritating humor of the TV cartoon.
The chipmunks can cause greater, more realistic mayhem, thanks to modern technology. And the whole idea of them as destructive kids gets enlarged and updated when they're turned into overworked teen pop idols, which is droll in its obvious way.
The film will still aggravate most adults (yes, there are poop jokes), but it's supposed to. And it made me smile as much as wince. Could've been a lot worse; it's a singing chipmunk movie, for Pete's sake.
The affectionate-but-troublesome little critters are voiced by Justin Long (Alvin), "Criminal Minds' " Matthew Gray Gubler (Simon) and real-life singing star Jesse McCartney (Theodore). Jason Lee plays Dave, who writes mopey ballads that even his college roommate turned record executive Ian Hawk (a very fun, geeky/evil David Cross) can't get recorded.
It's a kind of origin story in which the chipmunks end up in Dave's Hollywood loser bungalow, which they promptly trash. He almost kills them, then discovers they talk and wonders if he should kill himself. When he finds out they also sing, though, he writes the Christmas classic "The Chipmunk Song" for them. After a nod of the animated top hat to the classic Chuck Jones short "One Froggy Evening," the 'Munks get signed to Ian's label and quickly become a smash sensation.
Naturally, there's a struggle over the little superstars' future between exasperated but basically loving Dave and indulging, exploiting Ian. Lee is surprisingly convincing in the emotion department. I don't know if that's because or in spite of interacting with animated co-stars, but it couldn't have been the easiest thing to do.
The dancing cheek-stuffers cover the Bagdasarian classic "Witch Doctor" and less inspired choices such as "Funky Town" and "Bad Day." They do a few new tunes as well, and move and look more like real chipmunks than in most previous incarnations. Except when they're breakdancing.
The director is Tim Hill. He did "Muppets From Space" and "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties." He is improving.
"ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS"
Starring: Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson; voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney
Director: Tim Hill
Rated: PG for scatological humor
Opens today: Bay Area theaters
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes