by Matt McKenna
Unless you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, although you likely have been assaulted by the animated film’s ubiquitous trailer. When confronted by the trailer, perhaps you, like me, muted your TV/laptop/cell phone and wondered, why is there another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie? Or perhaps you, unlike me, had the wherewithal in that moment to realize the Alvin movies don’t exist because anyone particularly likes them but instead because parents are forced to bring their children to them regardless of their quality. What the Alvin movies are for children, the lottery is for adults–just as the Alvin movies don’t have to be good to sell tickets, neither does the Powerball lottery have to payout to sell tickets. With the Powerball jackpot prize shooting north of $1 billion, giddy adults are lining up to purchase tickets they know aren’t going to win. Indeed, it must be a cushy job to work either at 20th Century Fox on an Alvin movie or at the MUSL which runs Powerball since in either case, people will buy tickets despite their product providing no value to their customers.
The Road Chip stars Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney as the voices of the Chipmunks, although you’re unlikely to recognize any of them since their voices are sped up to sound like, you know, the Chipmunks. Jason Lee reprises his lucrative role as Dave, the Chipmunk’s kindly stick-in-the-mud adoptive father who must balance the stresses of being a music producer and having rodent children. After shutting down a conspicuously liquor-free house party thrown by the Chipmunks, Dave introduces his kids to his new girlfriend, Samantha, and her sociopath son, Miles. Miles and the Chipmunks come to believe Dave is going to propose to Samantha, so they devise a plan to follow the couple to Miami (hence the “road chip”) and sabotage the proposal to avoid becoming siblings. Hijinks ensue along the way, none of which generated laughter in the 7:30PM showing I attended in San Francisco. There weren’t any children in the audience, however, so perhaps the jokes were simply lost on the handful of adults sitting in the otherwise empty theatre. In one joke that was deemed funny enough to appear in the trailer, Theodore farts on a cheeseball, apologies, and says “pizza toots.” Going into the movie, I was interested to see if the “pizza toots” joke would produce laughs from a live theatre audience. It did not.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait for hours in line to see The Road Chip, which is exactly what many Americans did going into this past weekend to purchase a Powerball ticket. Despite the well-publicized 1 in 292 million odds of winning the jackpot, the allure of suddenly owning an absurd amount of money convinced Americans to spend over a billion dollars on this drawing. I think the parallels between the The Road Chip and Powerball are clear in that neither the movie nor the lottery have any sort of payoff, yet both are wildly successful. Powerball does have one advantage over The Road Chip, however, in that at least you don’t have to sit in a theatre for ninety minutes to find out you lost.
So no surprise: I didn’t like The Road Chip nor am I the only person on the Internet who had that reaction as the film currently stands at a meager 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is only slightly under the series’ average score. Despite this low score and being released at the same time as the outrageously popular Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Road Chip has already made $100 million. And because nobody won the Powerball this past weekend (surprise!), the jackpot is predicted to increase to $1.3 billion, which is almost exactly the total amount of money the Alvin film franchise has earned worldwide. That’s a lot of money spent on tickets that provide their purchasers with no value. Alas, I suppose that’s not why people buy them.