‘CHIPS’ is the latest 70’s television show to get the big screen treatment, in this remake starring Dax Shepard and Michael Pena. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motor-biker 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. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but 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…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way. ‘CHIPS’ is written and directed by Dax Shepard himself, and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.
‘CHIPS’ is an interesting concept in script and tone because I’m not quite so sure about who it is marketed towards. Fans of the 70’s television show won’t like it because it abandons the working formula that made the series a success for five years. Youthful fans who have never seen the show and just want to watch a good movie won’t like it because there’s nothing funny or entertaining about this juvenile film that can barely be called a remake. Over the last fifteen years, remakes of 70’s and 80’s TV shows have been hit or miss for their finished products. Most notably, films like ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Man From UNCLE’ have attained that rare stamp of approval from TV enthusiasts of the original, while films like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ have done lasting damage. Unfortunately, ‘CHIPS’ will fall with the latter because this often distracted bro-comedy offers very little homage or memorable material to justify its presence among the remake ranks. This is Shepard’s second time behind the camera, and its clear that his admirable ambitions overshoots the actuality of his grip on the pulse of this particular franchise.
At 96 minutes, there’s very little in positive returns for that of a script that takes every ten minutes to halt what little momentum these characters or subplots build on. One example of such is the noticeable stance on homophobia, which holds no bearing or place in this particular story. Because of this, ‘CHIPS’ often feels like it was made ten years too late, when the poking fun of cultural explorers because eye-rolling. Often times, this movie feels like it was written by a minor who just peeped his first nudity magazine. The R-rating is used to show female breasts, or to let the cast drop the occasional F bomb, which has zero impact on their overall comedic timing or flawed delivery. Even more so, this movie has some of the most obvious foreshadowing in storytelling that I have seen most recently. It’s easy to spot these lines from the second they are presented because often it holds no meaning or accordance to the material being shuffled in dialogue. Some of these examples were Shepard’s character having bionic limbs from bike accidents, so he tells his captain on the first interview that rain is bad for him. So of course there will be a scene where rain prominently pops up. Another one involves Shepard saying he hates blending house smells because they make him vomit, so of course we are going to have a scene where this gets to him. Pena and Shepard have a conversation early on about girls who marry their fathers, then sure enough there’s a line of dialogue by the end of a movie where a female cop explains that she likes Shepard because he reminds her of her father. This isn’t even half of what I found, and it makes the material more than slightly telegraphed as I waited for the ending.
Then there’s the dialogue, a literal hodge-podge of awful line reading. At first I wondered if this was intentional to play up to the laughably bad forced readings of 70’s nostalgia, but then I realized what little in storyline progression that this movie actually had. This film has this vast offering of multiple scenes that will halt in order for Pena and Shepard to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Most of the time it’s things that the typical grown up would learn in high school, and it hangs what is going on around them in mid-air waiting patiently for when they finish up. I will get more to the characters later on, but Pena’s character in particular crippled me, as every other line of dialogue concluded with a “bro”. On top of that, most of these reads feel like they never should’ve made the finished product, as they rarely ever feel believable through the dense fog of ludicrous developments. Now I’m not foolish enough to expect great dialogue from the CHIPS remake, but it does help the entertainment value if I can immerse myself and believe that these two idiots are officers of the law to benefit the story.
As for the performances, there was nothing of any charismatic charm or finesse to justify the casting of Pena and Shepard beyond the latter’s triple layer mold of power on the project. What passes for character exposition in this movie is the most brief of offerings for us to indulge in. Pena’s character is a sex addict, that’s it. That is all that we have to hang our investment of this character on. Shepard’s is at least slightly more in-depth; he’s an ex-motocross performer whose wife is cheating on him. How could you not want to spend over an hour-and-a-half with these guys? Beyond this, the two have virtually no on-screen chemistry between them, often times feeling like two actors who just met and were asked outside to come in and put on a show on-stage for twenty people. Vincent D’Onofrio is decent, but the biggest aspect to his character is that we learn something about his moral stigma early on that the movie doesn’t catch up to for another eighty minutes, taking us through the most obvious of movie mysteries.
I do have one positive to this movie however, and it’s that Shepard at least has a distinct view for bike chase sequences that serve as the single lone aspect that outdoes the original. These scenes don’t come nearly enough in the overall finished product, but there are some exceptionally well depicted tracking shots that take us through the ritzy areas of Beverly Hills. These luxurious landscapes breeze by through each swerve and turn that our protagonists take us on, and it overall makes for a fast-paced action thrill ride that serves as the brief moment that this film takes our breath away. I also greatly enjoyed the POV style that put us face-to-face with our riders as they embrace the fast-and-dangerous lifestyle. Most of the time, POV won’t work because you miss what is most important that is going on around the actors and action, but the rendering here is justifiable because these officers are constantly imbedded in the chaos that surrounds them.
Whatever CHIPS intends to be, one thing is certain; this film lacks the energy and chemistry of a 70’s TV show by comparison (Laugh intended). A staggerly unfunny comedy that puppeteers the sensitivity of homophobia and important female leads. Something that would make sense in the 70’s, but not in a politically correct 2017 that has grown above that. Shepard has an artistic eye for motocross sequences and little else. Perhaps a future in the X-Games, instead of feature length films is just up his alley. Either way, CHIPS is coming to a yard sale near you.