You know Hollywood’s really struggling when you see studios try to revive crappy television shows from the ’70s and ’80s, such as NBC’s CHiPS (1977-83), the little-known property developed by Rick Rosner. Written, directed and starring Dax Shepard — alongside the usually reliable Michael Peña — this retro revamp sees Shepard crash and burn as he tries to capture the R-Rated energy of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street (2012) with a generic buddy cop reboot that’s weighed down by a derived story, weak jokes and a surprising amount of violence, his off-kilter approach to the material (the series was actually a drama) alienating both newcomers and fans alike.
Our story follows two middle-aged California Highway Patrol (CHP) motorcycle officers who join the division for two very different reasons. The first is Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), a washed-up X-Games motocross champion who suffered one too many injuries back in his glory days, which subsequently ended his career, the former star becoming a cop to naively try and save his fading marriage to trophy wife Karen (Kristen Bell). The second is Miami FBI agent Castillo (Michael Peña), a macho cop with an unhealthy weakness for women in skintight yoga pants. When Castillo is reassigned to work in California, sent undercover with the alias of Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, he is partnered with the straight-arrow Baker (who’s basically still on probation), the pair teaming up to serve and bro-tect as they’re tasked with investigating a multi-million dollar heist that could involve several of their own — crooked officers inside the CHP department.
Just like a heist gone awry, CHIPS struggles from the get-go, with the chief culprit being its by-the-numbers low-stakes set-up, which feels way too familiar, the sun-baked backdrop and ‘uncover the dirty cop’ story probably just as excuse for Shepard to show off his motorbike knowledge (one of his real-life passions), along with several of his pedal-to-the-metal skills — snaking his way down a twisty staircase, for instance. The flick’s comedy (or lack thereof) mostly falls flat and stems from Shepard and Peña’s odd couple paring, the two constantly at odds with one another because of their conflicting personalities. See, although Baker pops opiates like candy, he is very open about his feelings and uses words such as ‘closure’ and ‘deflect,’ while his partner Ponch is that classic homophobic tough guy, who just so happens to have an over exaggerated sex addiction. That said, the pair’s banter is never as amusing as it ought to be, the film relying too heavily on sketchy improv and lowbrow gags instead of clever writing — a scene that plays on gay paranoia and sees Ponch face-plant into Baker’s 100% all-beef thermometer isn’t as funny as Shepard thinks it is.
The film is arguably at its best when we’re thrust into its high-octane action, with several arresting high-speed chases taking front and center, particularly a kick-ass pursuit around the streets of L.A., which involves cars, motorcycles, a helicopter, a SWAT Humvee and a motorhome, and culminates in an explosive shoot-out on Downtown’s 4th Street Bridge. CHIPS surprisingly doesn’t skimp on the violence either — we get a bloody decapitation, severed fingers and enough gun-shot wounds to push it over the legal limit — with Shepard eventually taking a pretty nasty dig at the paparazzi, the ‘gag’ coming off as mean spirited.
It doesn’t help that mismatched leads Dax Shepard, Employee of the Month (2006), and Michael Peña, Ant-Man (2015), share little to no on-screen chemistry as the archetypal action-comedy duo, even if Peña’s endearing nature somehow manages to elevate certain parts of the flick, the 41-year-old making a joke about the mainstreaming of a certain sexual practice kinda work. A gruff looking Vincent D’Onofrio, Jurassic World (2015), brings a quasi-formidable edge to the bad guy role of Ray Kurtz, a corrupt officer who’s given a smidgen of a back-story that involves his screw-up son, Raymond Reed Kurtz Jr. (Justin Chatwin). Isiah Whitlock, Jr., 1408 (2007), is actually quite good as Ponch’s incessantly ticked-off FBI boss, Peterson, whereas Adam Brody, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), doesn’t get much to do as Ponch’s former partner Clay Allen, an FBI Agent who is constantly getting shot by Peña. Sadly, the females fare much worse with Jessica McNamee, The Vow (2012), and Rosa Salazar, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), playing a couple of sexed-up CHP officers — Lindsey Taylor and Ava Perez respectively — whilst Shepard’s smokin’ spouse Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) — making her fourth big-screen collaboration with her husband — is wasted as Baker’s vain ex, Karen. And oh, keep an eye out for a decent cameo from former CHiPS star Erik Estrada.
Less 21 (or 22) Jump Street and more Starsky & Hutch (2004) — but even that was slightly better — CHIPS sees comedian Dax Shepard squander an opportunity to rekindle the bargain basement goofiness of the flick’s not-so-great source. With uninteresting characters and a derivative plot, CHIPS is a bit of a mirthless misfire, one that makes for a less-than-stellar joyride (on those big-ass Ducati bikes), and only manages to deliver a couple of mildly entertaining thrills (albeit superficial ones). Oh well, at least we still have Dwayne Johnson’s Baywatch (2017) adaptation to look forward to.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie