CHIPS (2017) Warner Bros./Action-Comedy RT: 100 minutes Rated R (crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence, drug use) Director: Dax Shepard Screenplay: Dax Shepard Music: Fil Eisler Cinematography: Mitchell Amundsen Release date: March 24, 2017 (US) Cast: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kristen Bell, Rosa Salazar, Adam Brody, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jessica McNamee, Jane Kaczmarek, Ryan Hansen, Vida Guerra, Justin Chatwin.
Not too long ago, I watched an old episode of CHiPs on one of those channels that shows classic TV shows. In a time when cop shows like Law & Order and CSI deal with rapists and serial killers, the storyline about a burglary ring was quaint. I got a good laugh out of it too. It hit how me how dumb the show really was. Why would two highway patrol officers be investigating a burglary ring? Aren’t they supposed to chase down speeders and control accident scenes? Of course, nobody ever questioned why they got involved with any case not involving moving violations when the show was on (late 70s/early 80s). It was a popular show though, especially among the grade school demographic. The boys would talk excitedly about it the next day at school (it aired on Sunday nights). The girls had pin-ups of the two impossibly handsome lead actors, Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox, on their bedroom walls. There were lunch boxes, T-shirts and action figures. There may have even been a board game.
A movie version of CHiPs has been talked about for several years. Why not, Hollywood loves recycling old TV shows. It was only a matter of time until it happened. It finally has and the results are less than impressive. Written and directed by Dax Shepard, CHIPS is a moving violation. Simply put, he takes it in the wrong direction. The show, innocent by today’s standards, is an ideal satirical target. It should have been a knowing satire like The Brady Bunch Movie and 21 Jump Street. He could have had so much fun by making CHIPS aware of how silly it is. It’s not an original approach but it’s definitely better suited for the material than this. It’s a crude, unfunny action-comedy filled with lame jokes about male genitalia, masturbation, homophobia and “eating out asses”*. It begs the question of whether Shepard ever watched a single episode of the original show. Either way, he got it wrong in a major way.
The TV show was never known for complex storylines and that may be the only thing the movie gets right. The plot deals with a team of corrupt cops and an armored car heist that nets them millions of dollars. It also results in the death of a cop. The lead bad guy is Ray Kurtz (D’Onofrio, Law & Order: CI), a lieutenant in the CHP (California Highway Patrol). An FBI agent (Pena, End of Watch) is assigned to go undercover as a motorcycle cop named Frank Poncherello and team up with rookie cop Jon Baker (Shepard) to bring the bad guys to justice. Remember how these characters were so clean-cut in the TV show? Not anymore. In the movie, Jon is a pill-popping screw-up who used to be a professional motorcycle rider. He’s a physical wreck, his body covered with surgical scars. He keeps talking about trying to fix his marriage to his bitch of an estranged wife (played by Shepard’s real life wife Kristen Bell). It’s clear to everybody but Jon that she doesn’t care a fig about him. Ponch is turned into a sex addict with a thing for yoga pants. He’s also something of a screw-up with a propensity for accidentally shooting his own partners.
Their partnership is not a case of love at first sight. Jon keeps urging Ponch to share his feelings and stop “deflecting”. Ponch wants to focus on his given assignment; he can’t be bothered with trivial matters like giving out tickets or pulling over speeders. For his part, Jon has to excel at his new job if he wants to remain on the force. Because he did so poorly on every part of the entrance exam (except the part about motorcycle driving), he’s on probation. He can’t shoot worth a damn but he sure can ride. Naturally, a bond forms between them. It happens when Ponch falls face-first into Jon’s naked crotch while carrying him to the bathtub. Yes, face-junk contact is made.
The scene I just described is representative of the level of humor in CHIPS, a movie clearly aimed at 13-year-old boys who still can’t tell funny from gross. To be fair, CHIPS isn’t as terrible as some of the comedies that get made these days but it’s still bad. Shepard’s character is supposed to be a straight-arrow type but his utter ineptitude makes it a moot point. He’s a well-meaning idiot. Pena is too good for a movie like this. D’Onofrio’s bad guy is fairly generic. The action scenes are perfunctory and the chase scenes are badly edited. CHIPS is raunchy, sexist and homophobic. There are a lot of jokes about being mistakenly identified as a homosexual. There’s a cop who identifies himself as the token gay cop (or words to that effect). In this movie, women are either sex objects or horny. Sexism and homophobia are rampant. Humor is not. I chuckled at one scene involving paparazzi being run over during a chase. The rest of CHIPS lands with a thud. It’s so misguided and wrong-headed that you wish they hadn’t bothered at all. Erik Estrada (who cameos in the movie) even criticized the movie as “demeaning to CHiPs fans” and “pure trash” on his Twitter account. I recommend that you watch reruns of the original show instead; they’re infinitely more entertaining and funny (albeit unintentionally so).
*= Apparently, this is a real thing. It even has a name, “anilingus”. And who says movies aren’t educational.