Money: Or, Why You Can’t Blame Jason Lee for Making ‘The Chipmunks’

Jason Lee

Jason Lee is a funny guy. He makes millions of people laugh every Thursday night on “My Name Is Earl.” He has talent. So why did he provide the voice of the title character in this summer’s awful “Underdog” movie? And why is he the main human character in this Christmas’ “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” which looks to be almost unimaginably bad?

That’s an easy question to answer. Money. And I don’t blame him!

I don’t know what he’s getting for the Chipmunks movie. says he got three million dollars for “A Guy Thing.” Whatever it is for “Chipmunks,” it’s safe to say that it’s more than the average person makes in 20 years, maybe more than the average person makes in a lifetime.

If you offered me three million dollars to be in the worst film ever made, working under excruciating conditions with the most egotistical and demanding director in the business, I would have signed my name on the contract before you’d finished saying the word “dollars.”

This is because I’m an average person with an average income, and I’m fascinated by the idea of large amounts of money. It’s funny how when you’re a kid, if you get some unexpected cash you think, “Cool! I can spend this on candy and gum!” And then when you’re an adult and you come into bonus money you think, “Cool! I can pay my electric bill!” And you’re genuinely excited about it! It’s sad, really. Did I say funny? I meant sad.

So it’s hard to blame Jason Lee or any other actor for taking on projects that they know are going to be terrible. Several million dollars is a lot of money, even to a movie star. Michael Caine supposedly once told an interviewer that he’d never actually seen “Jaws: The Revenge,” in which he starred, “but I have seen the house it built, and it’s terrific.”

Besides, there’s something to be said for an actor who just wants to work, who isn’t worried about making masterpieces as much as he simply likes to act get paid. That’s an attitude the average person can relate to: I may not love every minute of this job, but I sure like that paycheck every Friday. Christopher Walken has been in an astonishing number of bad movies, including “Joe Dirt,” “The Country Bears,” “Kangaroo Jack,” “Gigli,” “Envy,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Domino.” Why? He likes acting. It’s fun. It pays well. Who cares if the finished product is any good?

Sure, there are some actors who care. Daniel Day-Lewis shows up every five years or so, makes a movie, then scampers back into his hermit hole again. He’s very selective. Good for him. What does he want, a medal? Talk to me when you’ve starred in “Bratz II: The Reckoning,” Mr. D-L. Then I’ll know you’re a real person.