CHiPs is a 2017 American action comedy buddy cop film written and directed by Dax Shepard, based on the 1977-1983 television series of the same name created by Rick Rosner. The film stars Shepard as Officer Jon Baker and Michael Peña as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, with Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Brody, Rosa Salazar, Vida Guerra, and Kristen Bell in supporting roles.
Throughout the film, it’s hard to pin down the exact intention of what’s coming across, and save for a few bright spots, it culminates as a mess.
Dax Shepard’s big screen adaptation of the television show CHIPS suffers from what can best be described as indecision. It takes the title of the classic cop series and the names of its two leads, but leaves pretty much everything else up for interpretation. It’s loaded with overtly-goofy (albeit also dark) characterizations and situations, but clashes them with an entirely serious crime plot. And while it takes its bat back with a number of big bit setups, the result each time amounts to a swinging bunt. Throughout the film, it’s hard to pin down the exact intention of what’s coming across, and save a few bright spots, it culminates as a mess.
In addition to writing and directing the film, Dax Shepard also stars in CHIPS as John Baker – who is reimagined as an ex-motocross rider who has become hooked on pain pills due to his many injuries and joins the California Highway Patrol in hopes of repairing his marriage to his cruel, bimbo wife (Kristin Bell). A newcomer to the force, his paths then wind up crossing with Castillo (Michael Pena), an FBI agent who has been sent undercover to the CHP under the name of Francis Llewellyn Poncherello. As you would expect, John and Ponch wind up being paired as partners — and while conflict immediately brews out of John’s incompetence and Ponch’s impatience, they find themselves bonded together in pursuit of a corrupt cop (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has been pulling off explosive armored car robberies.
That heavy on character, light on plot description is an appropriate representation of the balance present in CHIPS, which definitely hopes that audiences appreciate the characters enough that they don’t notice how little they are getting in terms of story. Vincent D’Onofrio is given the tiniest of arcs, his motivations pretty much all summed up in one scene about his need to get away with his drug-addicted son, but beyond that is merely present to be physically imposing. Meanwhile, what comes across as an investigation could be accurately described as a series of impressively lucky guesses — highlighted by a scene where Ponch is searching through a catalog of officers as potential suspects and singles out D’Onofrio as the criminal based on zero evidence.
Meanwhile, it’s clearer to see what Dax Shepard was going for with his darker takes on John and Ponch, but there’s no effortlessness to the characterizations, as personality quirks are played as one-and-done gags. It’s set up early that John suffers from what is essentially all-over arthritis due to innumerable motocross accidents, and that rainy days are a nightmare — but once that plays out within an excessively blue sequence entirely detached from the plot in the middle of the movie, it never enters the picture again. Similarly, Ponch is written to be afflicted with a sexual addiction that inspires frequent masturbation and sleeping with random women, and yet that compulsion not only disappears in the second half, but it’s also completely unwritten at the expense of a stupid, tasteless phone sex joke.
Surprisingly, the most redeeming aspect of CHIPS is actually its action, born out of Dax Shepard’s personal enthusiasm for motorcycle racing. On beyond it just being nice to see such a solid amount of practical stunt work, the film strings together a number of fast, high-tension chase sequences that are legitimately enhanced by the apparent dangers of high speeds and low angle turns. While nothing necessarily innovative or revolutionary is achieved, it is impressively done and deserves recognition. It doesn’t seem intentional, but there are more definitely more engaging moments in the action than there are laughs in the comedy.
Bringing classic television shows to the big screen has proven a rough gambit in Hollywood over the last 20 years — with only a few wins scattered amongst a lot of losses. On this scale, CHIPS most definitely ranks closer to The Dukes of Hazard than it does 21 Jump Street. It’s hard to imagine anyone clamoring for this one based on title alone, and it really just doesn’t have the content to support the attempted brand revival.