Singing chipmunks not-so-cute second time around

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel" is a kids comedy that screams "Direct to DVD." It doesn't help that it screams that in high, squeaky, three-part harmony.

Whatever slim charms there were in the nostalgic, musically cute and slapstick-friendly first film of chipmunk mania are squished right out of "The Squeakuel" like so much rodent roadkill. The cast is cut-rate, and the script needed a serious visit from a serious gag writer.

Apparently, Fox blew the budget on tunes. Songs from Beyonce and Katy Perry to the Bee Gees and The Kinks are amusingly covered by competing bands of harmonizing forest fauna.

Alvin, Simon and Theodore take a step back from fame to go to West Eastman High School, where they cope with bullies, girls, budget cuts to the school music program and Alvin's (voiced by Justin Long) egomania. He's all about fitting in with the jocks, ditching his nerdy brothers, slinging the slang.

"BOO-yah! It is on like Donkey Kong!"

They do it all without their "Dad," David Seville (Jason Lee, wisely opting to do his few scenes in traction in a hospital room). So Dave's irresponsible, video-game addict cousin Toby (Zachary Levi) is put in charge.

There must be rules for playing the human straight man or woman in talking-critter movies. Rule one has to be "Don't make the audience feel sorry for you for taking the part." Whatever charms network executives saw in Levi (TV's "Chuck" and "Less Than Perfect"), he hasn't the charisma to fill even a small fraction of the big screen. He doesn't try. Levi didn't phone this in - he texted.

A Destiny's Child-inspired counter-group, The Chipettes - managed by the Chipmunks' old agent-nemesis, Ian (David Cross) - shows up to shake their money makers, tempt the boys and sing "(Single Ladies) Put a Ring on It" and other recent girl-group hits. The film credits Anna Faris, Amy Poehler and Christina Applegate with doing their voices, but who can verify that?

The script - Jon Vitti, Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger will be deleting this from their resumes - has one laugh in it. One. If you don't know what "Dutch Oven!" means in relation to flatulence, ask your kids.


"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel"

One star

STARRING: Jason Lee and the voices of Justin Long, Anna Faris, Amy Poehler and Christina Applegate

RATED: PG for some mild rude humor

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 28 minutes