rating: 2The Alvin and the Chipmunks films have curiously managed to avoid - and in the case of the last film, scarcely skate past - the end-of-year "Worst Of..." lists that critics love to write; they are an annoyance we tolerate, and while the first film definitely displayed some knowing promise, the end result is best described as the cinematic equivalent of a high-pitched, hyperactive fly buzzing around your inner ear for 80-or-so minutes. The latest, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, is as perfectly bad and inoffensively banal as 2009's Squeakquel, though with this third entry comes the hope that we might have seen the end of the tragic Jason Lee-starring saga by now, something I expect its bountiful box office receipts will probably deny. This third film sees the Chipmunks and Chipettes in a more relaxed mode, preparing to go on a holiday cruise with their kind, beleaguered owner, Dave (Lee). However, their unruly behaviour sees them - and Dave, along with series villain Ian Hawke (David Cross), who is the ship's entertainer, dressed in a pelican suit - ejected from the ship by way of a glider accident, causing them to wash up, ahem, chipwrecked (get it?) on a nondescript island. With Dave and Ian separated from their furry friends, they must navigate the island to find them and hopefully escape the island together. Chipwrecked is a slight curio of a film because while it is as unerringly grating as the last two films, the formula is slightly different this time, spending little time focusing on the chipmunks' singing and more on their shenanigans as a shipwrecked team who must work together to save the day. To compensate for the lack of song numbers, we instead have a score that features its share of squeaky renditions of songs like Pink's "Trouble", though at least the film gets most of the long ones out of the way in the first fifteen minutes. Throughout, however, the ditties seem more aggressively focused towards the last decade of bubblegum pop, whereas the previous films at least ruined a few songs that were actually good in the first place. The real problem, though, is that the chipmunks' high-pitched screeching is likely to grate on the ears of most anyone over the age of 10, and while it might be tolerable or even cute over the truncated length of their bite-sized albums and TV shows, it really cannot sustain over an 80-minute film. As ever, the chipmunks are treated with a peculiar acceptability by most humans they meet, resulting in some incredibly goofy situations, particularly a dance-off between the Chipettes and a trio of lairy women, which just barely registers a laugh on the "I can't believe they're doing this" scale. The film's only firm triumph is the re-appearance of David Cross as Dave's arch nemesis Ian; Chipwrecked's few genuine laughs almost entirely result from a few of Cross's hilarious one-liners, hilarious enough, in fact, that one suspects he probably improvised them. Putting himself through what would be for many actors a humiliating wringer - by donning the pelican suit for the entire film's duration - he comes out curiously unscathed, as though he, like us, is slyly mocking the whole production. Thus, both stars in this review are awarded for his contribution to the film. The 'munks shipwrecking on an island does provide a few interesting opportunities, chiefly to cleverly reference any number of popular shipwreck narratives, from Robinson Crusoe, to the TV show Lost, or Tom Hanks' Cast Away. This is embodied through Jenny Slate's Zoe, an apparent UPS employee who crash-landed on the island almost a decade ago and has been searching for a way home ever since. Having befriended inanimate objects such as a basketball, she is obviously intended to mirror Hanks' aforementioned role, yet here it is reproduced without any of its own subversion or humour; it is the laziest of cinematic references. What's best said about Chipwrecked is that will probably keep the youngest children tenuously entertained for its brief run time, a shockingly, yet mercifully short 75-minutes, minus credits (yes, there are a lot of mid-credit "goodies" with this one). For all the bad one might have to say about Fox, they at least didn't slap some garish 3D over the production, a step which must have been tempting, and from a fiscal perspective, seems like the next logical stop, what with the tropical setting and focus on animated-animal slapstick. I guess they figured those squeaky voices combined with 3D visuals would be too headache-inducing for audiences. Chipwrecked is too blandly family friendly to make many worst-of-the-year lists, but don't mistake that as a compliment. With all the digital and environmental tomfoolery, it's a shock that Chipwrecked wasn't released in 3D, and that renders it ever so slightly more respectable. But seriously, Jason Lee, you're so much better than this. Please, stop now. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is released Dec 16th.