A Sarah Palin joke? A Charlie Sheen wisecrack? Is this a Chipmunks movie or a Letterman monologue?
As current as a Lady Gaga cover, if not quite as relevant, Alvin and the Chipmunks "'munk up" for their third digitally animated turn on the big screen: Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, a Cast Away take-off that parks the three chipmunks, their three Chipette counterparts and their human family on a deserted island.
Most adults would sooner gouge their ears out than sit through these kids' films. But for captive parents in need of a reference point, Chip-Wrecked is twice as funny as 2009's The Squeakquel. And the return of Jason Lee as Dave Seville, the rodent wrangler who keeps our pop-singing ground squirrels in line, gives a hint of the heart that made 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks work, at least for its intended audience.
This time, the squeakers are off on a cruise before performing at a big international music awards show. And Alvin being Alvin, mischief is made and puns are purloined.
"I like my tails shaken, not stirred," Alvin (voiced by Justin Long) chirps as he dons a tux and sneaks out to hit the casino.
But that's nothing compared to the disaster he creates on deck. A kite and hang-gliding accident leads to Chipmunks and Chipettes overboard, with Dave and their disgraced manager, Ian (David Cross), now a lowly costumed ship's mascot, tumbling in after them.
They wash up on an island, the chipmunks in one pack, the humans in another. Each must find food, find ways to make fire and hope for rescue. Maybe they'll even find each other.
Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), "the responsible one," suffers a spider bite that turns him into a French-accented adventurer who goes by the name "See-mone." Thus Alvin finds himself having to be "the responsible one."
Kids might get the Cast Away gags — the rodents meet a longtime island dweller (Jenny Slate) who has made friends out of Rawlings, Dunlop and Callaway sports gear, where Tom Hanks settled for a volleyball named Wilson. Kids probably won't catch the Lord of the Flies references. These are urban chipmunks, so expecting them to know how to rough it is a bit much to ask, even though they're "used to living in the wild."
"We used to be used to living in the wild," Chipette Brittany (a helium-voiced Christina Applegate) corrects.
But at least there's always time for a song, from Party Rock and Bad Romance to The Go Go's hit Vacation and the campfire favorite, Kumbaya.
The gags — Chipettes having a dance battle with cruise-ship passengers from the Jersey Shore — and the jokes are pretty tame, the script relying a bit too heavily on "Oh, no, you didn't" sass and kick-in-the-groin "Oh, my acorns" cracks aimed at the 10-and-younger crowd. It's about what you'd expect from a Chipmunks movie directed by Mike Mitchell, who handled Surviving Christmas, Shrek Forever After and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo: not much.
But the message — about giving kids responsibility — and the tone make it hard to hate on these Chip-Wrecked chipmunks. At least they took the time to sum up the whole movie in one Chipette-to-Chipmunk put-down: "You can make all the jokes you want, Alvin, but you can't make this interesting."