I saw The Road Chip at a screening that started after its target audience’s bed time, meaning that I had the theater seemingly to myself. After hearing some mysterious noises, a head finally emerged a few rows ahead of me, and I realized a young couple was having some decidedly “adult” fun during this kids’ film. It is safe to say that, however disappointing their tryst might have been to the participants involved, they enjoyed the latest Chipmunks installment more than anyone in the country who is old enough to read.
Was a fourth Chipmunks film necessary? As a moviegoer, the answer is unquestionably “no.” As a studio executive, however, any franchise that has grossed over a billion dollars globally necessitates as many iterations as possible. Unfortunately, the process for green-lighting one of these atrocities seems to consist of waiting on a writer to come up with a pun for the title and then filming a series of musical numbers and action set-pieces that will be strung together with some semblance of a narrative in post. The quality of the titular pun in this instance is, sadly, indicative of the quality of the script, and the film’s cast seems justifiably displeased by the material they’ve been given.
Perceptive readers may have noticed that I refrained from naming the B and C-list celebrities that voice this film’s eponymous computer generated monstrosities. This is not an oversight, but a commentary on the wooden performances of a disengaged cast rendered unrecognizable by autotune. The actors who do appear on screen have chosen to sacrifice what dignity they might have possessed in exchange for what was hopefully a sizable check. Tony Hale overacts with surprising seriousness as the ostensible villain of the piece, and the most convincing theory for Jason Lee’s continued presence in these films is that starring in terrible children’s movies might be Scientology’s new torture for its errant adherents. I chose to list John Waters among the primary cast, despite his two lines and roughly twenty-seconds of screen time. His cameo not only delivers the sole laugh I could squeeze out of this screening. It also also pulled me back from the existential abyss with which I found myself confronted by reminding me that bad taste comes in many forms — and that I probably shouldn’t take awful films so seriously.
There’s little point in summarizing the story of The Road Chip, such as it is. The plot here simply serves as an excuse for CGI rodents to make scatological jokes and butcher popular songs that were bad enough without helium-infused reinterpretation. While this is obviously a film aimed at children, there are plenty of other such movies that do not actively insult the intelligence of their target demographic. A distinct air of laziness and cynicism pervades The Road Chip that adults will find distasteful even if their progeny have yet to develop the cinematic savvy to recognize a brazen cash-grab when they see one. To those who would argue that the kids dragging their parents to this movie will love it, I can only respond that those same kids would love to eat gummy bears for dinner, but that doesn’t mean a responsible parent would allow them to do so.
The very concept of trying to return a 50-plus-year-old one-note novelty to social relevance by inserting crude humor, rampant tween-isms and a few recognizable cameos would be laughable had these films not proven so profitable. Hopefully, the fact that Fox lead The Road Chip to its inevitable slaughter against the biggest release of the year is some indication that the studio has chosen to grant the franchise a quiet death. If not, I call bullchip. Rated PG for rude humor.