SITTING IMPATIENTLY at a kid-crowded, early-morning advance screening for the latest film in the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise—this being the second time in my life that I've been in this esteemed position—it's all too easy to catch oneself indulging in the pangs of self-satisfied superiority. The fact that hundreds of professional film practitioners could commit so much energy to something so utterly unredeemable is in itself enough to make a hard-poverty-lining critic feel like a bastion of personal integrity.

Unsurprisingly, it's the actors in a film like Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel that bear the brunt of this righteous indignation; not so much the voice actors (among them this time Amy Poehler, Christina Applegate, Justin Long, and Anna Faris)—whose unnaturally sped-up anonymity buys them all a bit of a pass—but dudes like Jason Lee and David Cross, whose pained, embarrassed visages will forever be married to this misfortune. (Cross in particular is sunk to emasculating new lows in The Squeakquel—it almost feels as if the whole enterprise is just an elaborate plot by some spiteful studio exec to humiliate him).

And then suddenly the veil of my virtue disappears, and I realize that I am sitting in a movie theater crowded with snot-nosed kids at 10 in the morning on a Saturday, watching another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie for $30. I mean, who's worse off, really? At least David Cross bought a house with his dignity.