Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
The CHiPS film adaptation most likely wouldn't have happened if Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's reimagining of 21 Jump Street and its sequel didn't become such huge box office successes and eminently quotable staples of modern comedy. Or maybe it would've. Hollywood is so starved for a good franchise that they're willing to look virtually anywhere and unearth any old TV property that's reruns don't even attract the attention of people your father's age. Perhaps you'll ignore CHiPS this weekend to go seePower Rangers. Or Kong: Skull Island. Or maybe you're just crossing your fingers an R-rated Gilligan's Island gets made so that you can finally see what Ginger has to offer.
Ever since his marginal breakthrough in Without a Paddle in 2004 and Employee of the Month in 2006, Dax Shepard has set out to prove that he has a voice in comedy that doesn't require you to mention like four movies after mentioning his name in conversation. Shepard's (commercial) directorial debutHit and Run was a fairly fun, engaging romp, and if nothing else, CHiPS goes on to prove his love and prowess for directing and immersing himself in car chases. What compelled him to bring the forgotten cult-favorite Rick Rosner television show from the 1970s to cinema I cannot say, but all the effort he put behind conducting gravity-defying stunts shows that when he puts his mind to something, he can surely succeed.
So why Dax didn't spend a bit more time on the screenplay for CHiPS? The film is a tiresome retread through the tropes of a vulgarian comedy, more obsessed with four-letter words and more sketched out by homosocial behavior than your average prepubescent teenager. You know the plot even if you don't know the original CHiPS program. It concerns an FBI agent named Frank "Ponch" Poncherello, who goes undercover at the California Highway Patrol only to be paired up with the mostly incompetent Jon Baker in an interesting shakeup of character types (Ponch was always the more rambunctious one of the two).
Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Jessica McNamee
24 March 2017
Steve's Grade: D+
In the film, Ponch and Baker, who is now a pill-popping ex-Motorcross racer with a trophy wife (Kristen Bell) who cheats on him right in front of his face, are trying to crackdown on in-house corruption at headquarters. It involves Ray Kurtz (Vincent D'Onofrio), a former LAPD cop turned heist ringleader who has involvement with shady crime rings all across California.
Ponch is played by Michael Peña, the logical choice for the character's new forte into more serious territory. Shepard casting himself in a project that he produced, wrote, and directed seems like vanity only because it kind of is, but at least he brings a recklessness to the film that gives it some edge of unpredictability. The only misstep he personally makes is having his character pop so many pills that he'd be a lethargic, purging mess more-so than a bike-riding prodigy that would make Matt Hoffman jealous.
The first real issue is that the film's humor is more of the same tired, homophobic, crass jabs at the easy targets we're so used to seeing mocked in American comedies. There are multiple jokes are characters' genitalia, another character's blatant incompetency, jokes about sex addiction, and so forth. Dax fails to realize that when you have a film with a concept this familiar - regardless of the fact that it derives from source material - you need to rely on your humor or your characters to carry the film. All we get are archetypal characters and jokes that probably would've found their way on the cutting room floor if they were part of the original Beverly Hills Cop or Police Academyfilms.
There's also serious convolution when it comes to the film's premise. We never get a full grasp of the stakes of what Ponch and Baker are trying to do. There are scenes that are edited so messily that they almost appear to make recurring members of the California Highway Patrol - like Lindsey Taylor (Jessica McNamee) - look like they're on Kurtz's side rather than the side of justice. The film is narratively sloppy, unrealized when it comes to its premise, interjecting too many characters and too many different contentious relationships (Ponch and Kurtz, Ponch and Allen, played by Adam Brody, etc) to get a firm grasp on what or who is ultimately the film's real antagonist.
CHiPS has moments of inspiration. Its action sequences are kinetic and amusing, and it occasionally finds its direction when it's allow its two charismatic leads to carry the film based on their own acting abilities (consider the scene where the two are arguing about how vital "closure" is outside a grieving woman's home). But there's far too little here to warrant a recommendation, and it's far too airy and aimless to say that reviving old, bygone TV properties is a successful way to create a funny comedy. Time will tell for that fact and never before has Baywatch been more of a make or break property than in this particular moment.
If your sole reason for seeing CHiPS involves high hopes of seeing a certain cameo by a certain someone, let me just say, it doesn't disappoint. Mostly.