Film review: “CHiPs” (2017)

“CHiPs” (2017)



Running Time: 101 minutes

Directed by: Dax Shepard

Featuring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Brody, Rosa Salazar, Vida Guerra, and Kristen Bell

Jon Baker: I hope that you’re not praying on girls with low self-esteem.

Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello: “How are you judging them, like by their hair, like how straight their teeth are?”

Jon Baker:Yeah.”

Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello:That’s really shallow. Real talk, she ate my butt.”

Jon Baker:She ate your ass?”

Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello:Everyone’s eating everyone’s ass now?”

Jon Baker:What about hygiene?”

Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello:If you go to the bathroom and you see some baby wipes, green light.”

This film has been in the offing for a number of years, frankly I am surprised it was made at all; I thought the recognition for this would be all but dead. Warner’s have had other ideas and some success with modestly budgeted R-rated comedies, in this case they have given the reigns of this project to Dax Shepard, who at this stage may be more famous for his marriage to Kristen Bell, than anything he has accomplished in the film business. Judging from the results and relative success of this film that may remain the case for Shepard, who has an ally in the form of always-reliable Michael Pena as his sparring partner in this 1970s re-tread.

The story (for what its worth) of “CHiPs” (2017) in this incarnation follows Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) who have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motorbiker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job, inside the CHP.

When they are teamed together they clash more than click, so kick starting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work. Soon they find themselves in a situation like none other when a sadistic ex-cop, Vic Brown (Vincent D’Onofrio), and his motor vehicle theft hit men are wreaking havoc throughout their city.

The only other film that I think about comparing ““CHiPs” to is the excellent and funny re-make of the TV series “Starsky & Hutch” (2004). That film not only had the benefit of something cool to draw on, that is the original television series, but the incredible talents of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Jason Bateman, in front of the camera all doing the things they were so successful at then. But behind the camera you had Todd Phillips in the directors chair who was about to come into his own with the “Hangover” Trilogy, which would land him on the A, list of comedic directors.

Unfortunately the only actor close to a star in “CHiPs” is Michael Pena who all respect to him has not carried a film by himself yet, but he has excellent comic timing that I pretty much forgive him for everything. Dax Shepard as comic actor is very good and his turn in “Idiocracy” (2006) is a must see; but he is a little uneven, my only real problem is that he should either stick behind the camera or stay in front of it – it takes very special talents to direct themselves. My thought was that there was no other male actor of a similar look and age that was available so this was rushed into production – and that may explain some of the issues with the movie.

“CHiPs”, ultimately, is just a standard action comedy romp with little attention paid to the script or really even the characters. Even though there are a lot of jokes they feel out of place in 2017, are gay jokes still funny or did Benny Hill and The Two Ronnies have a hand in this? Not everything is bad but when you have a modestly budgeted movie, the characters had better work, then the dialogue will flow – even comedies work that way – have a look at “Starsky & Hutch”, although the talent once again speaks for itself – in the end it is an unfair comparison.

I really wanted to like this movie but the writing is on the wall fairly early on, maybe it would have been better and funnier to have the two cops in an out of time plot or something that made sense to the original series. I for one was pretty disappointed and found myself asking how Shepard could write, direct, star and produce this without hitting the goal once. As i said earlier I think Dax should just act and leave the more behind the camera stuff to others.

The one thing this film does do is to offer some counter programming to the glut of films being released over the next two weeks and for all its weaknesses it is a studio R-rated comedy for adults. The downside is that its not the greatest comedy, but you will have a laugh and if you do remember the original from the 1970s or have seen repeats you will recognize certain touchstones, such as the uniforms and the bikes – which is about it, as LA has changed so much that the geographic area fom the original is unrecognizable.

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