Films based classic television shows seem to be a dime a dozen in the 2000s and 2010s with the latest offering being “CHiPs”, a buddy cop action comedy based on the television series that ran from 1977 to 1983. One of the few wide release comedy films that have hit the big screen in early 2017, “CHiPs” was an attempt by star, director, producer, and writer Dax Shepard to pay homage to the classic series and hopefully bring a few laughs along the way. Alas, his film not only fails to do it’s source material justice but fails to be much of an effective or memorable comedy in any way.
Starring Shepard and Michael Peña as updated versions of the television show’s famed lead characters Officers Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello respectively, the duo are paired together as one tries to save his marriage by finding a new passion as a member of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) while the other goes undercover for the FBI to find a dirty cop hidden within the CHP. As they get closer to the truth the stakes get higher with comedic misunderstandings and unfortunate mishaps adding spice to the adventure.
Honestly there’s very little I can say about “CHiPs” to shine a good light on it. There’s just so much wrong with the film, it’s honestly a mess. The few actually good aspects of the movie aren’t even the stars of the show. Well, I lie one is actually a star. Peña totally steals all the spotlight from Shepard as he portrays Ponch with a committed sense of comedic timing and perversion. While his character is a womanizer, a sex addict, and, as the movie reminds us way too many times, a potential homophobe, Peña’s natural comedic talent shines as he steal every single scene he’s in. Other exceptional performances are turned in by the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays the films central villain, and Rosa Salazar, who portrays Ava Perez, a young CHP cop who serves as a grounding point for Shepard’s Jon Baker. Other than that, this movie is pretty thin on real acting talent and even these actors only do their best with what’s given to them. All it really offers are some great explosions, a bit of obvious advertising for the Chevy Malibu, and a massive over-dependence on stunk bike riding to drive home a bit of enjoyable popcorn-worthy entertainment.
Other than that, Shepard’s performance is dry and uninteresting, most of the supporting cast is forgettable at best, and even Shepard’s wife, Kristen Bell, turns in a less than stellar performance well below her acting range as none other than Shepard’s character’s estranged wife. Even though the characters are separated, you’d think there would be a bit more charisma between the two considering they have a very lovely and adorable real-life relationship to build off of right?
On top of that, and I’m being brutally honest here because it’s frustrating to walk into a comedy and not laugh, there’s nothing really funny about “CHiPs” at all. I giggled a few times, that’s in. Most of the material we’ve seen before over and over and over again and Shepard and his crew don’t even try to add any originality to it. The jokes that do stand out are littered with homophobic undertones and the tired repetition of the same material. A standout example is Jon being reminded constantly by the character that noone cares about his marriage situation, and I found myself literally saying that same thing after the third time the filmmakers tried to drive home the pun. At best I found the film ironically funny as the only reason I found myself truly laughing was because someone else thought this was a funny movie. Maybe my standards are too high, I don’t know. I thought “Keanu” was a dry mess of lackluster comedy in 2016 and few agreed with me so you be the judge on that. Still, add in forced gratuitous nudity and sexual puns and you have yourself a comedy that’s not very funny and an action film that lacks much enjoyable action. Even when the film does pick up in the middle and the buddy cop aspect begins to show some potential it slows down into cliché territory and becomes just plain boring.
There’s not much else I can say that other critics haven’t already covered. There’s no charm or real amusement in “CHiPs”, which is sad because I was really hoping it would live up to its potential and bring us the first great comedy of the year. Fans of the series or of Shepard’s past work may enjoy what “CHiPs” has to offer, but for me it lacked any real redeeming factors to make it even slightly memorable, and that’s a shame.