Alvin, Simon and Theodore deal with the pressures of high school and fluctuations in popularity in this modest, agreeably family-friendly upgrade over the singing-and-dancing chipmunks’ muddled franchise debut. Featuring CGI critters who interact raucously with their live-action human custodians, this movie, akin to bouncy family adventures like the Stuart Little and Garfield franchises before it, heartily aims itself at and mostly successfully connects with a pre-teen demographic.
It’s hard to swallow some of the narrative plot points here, like the fact that hugely popular entertainers — which the chipmunks are supposed to be — could be instantaneously humbled by a couple doofus teenagers. Small swatches of dialogue, too (most notably including pointlessly empty movie references by Alvin to Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and The Silence of the Lambs), come across as awkward attempts at hipster posturing. Forgetting for a moment how he would know about them, would Alvin be saying these things because he thought they were funny? And would modern teens even find them at all amusing?
The chief difference between this movie and its predecessor is the former’s unfussy confidence, though. Whereas the first film was full of pat set-ups and unimaginative staging, director Betty Thomas provides the brightly colored sequel with more zip and focus. Chase sequences or other action scenes are shorter, and more tightly choreographed. She’s aided, too, by a story that takes aim at low-hanging fruit. Pared down and mostly stripped free of clumsy attempts at exposition and emotional string-pulling, this sequel presents a story with a simple end point: a $25,000 competition to save a high school’s music program, and possibly restore the chipmunks’ luster. For the full review, from Screen International, click here. (20th Century Fox, PG, 89 minutes)