Synopsis – A rookie officer is teamed with a hardened pro at the California Highway Patrol, though the newbie soon learns his partner is really an undercover Fed investigating a heist that may involved some crooked cops.
My Take – It seems over the years, creative heads at studios have formed a belief that rebooting 20 to 30 year old popular TV shows into live action film is something what the audience wants. Sure there have been exceptions such as Starsky and Hutch (2004), 21 Jump Street (2012) and its sequel 22 Jump Street (2014) to name a few, but the general reception for the rest of them have varied from poor to disastrous, despite the target audience being the current generation which seem to thrive on raunchy humor, while placing minimal value on a coherent or interesting story. Yet somehow, when this film based on a lightweight and popular TV show was announced I wasn’t surprised! I’ve never seen a single episode of the television series that ran for six seasons on NBC-TV (1977-1983) and inspired a 1999 made-for-TV reunion movie, so I had no expectations, good or bad, what actually surprised me that the studio had entrusted Dax Shepard with the ultimate role of Director/Writer/Producer/Actor for this contemporary version. Honestly, after seeing 2012’s Hit and Run, I didn’t think Hollywood had it in them to green light another Dax Shepard directed film, clearly I was mistaken. Still, considering I still love and enjoy the now almost dried up buddy comedy genre, and have always kind of liked Dax Shepard and Michael Pena, I decided to check it out, despite the bad reviews and minimal box office results. While no classic, film does have its fair share of laughs and gags, lots of gunfire, bickering and bantering and swearing, but ultimately run down by a forgettable plot. The film has all of the ingredients of a good cop buddy action- comedy flick, but the jokes just aren’t funny enough. A lot of the film feels kind of dry too, because of it. The action scenes are good though, the buddy relationship is well developed, and Shepard and Pena are both good in their roles. Some of the humor works too actually, but the good jokes are just way too few and far between.
Re-imagined as a prequel, the story follows Castillo (Michael Pena), a womanizing, sex-texting, homophobic, trigger-happy, FBI agent, who while disciplinary charges for shooting his partner Clay Allen (Adam Brody) in order to nab a criminal, is reassigned to Los Angeles, in order to investigate a wave of armored car robberies by gangs on motorcycles hitting the city. Suspecting that members of the gang are lead and consist of members of the California Highway Patrolman, Castillo goes undercover with an alias Francis Llewelyn “Poncho” Poncherello, with utmost excitement, until he is paired with a forty something, probationary rookie, Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), a former X-games motorcycle champ who has had up to 23 surgeries, desperately hopes that his crisply-creased, brown CHP uniform will induce his estranged swim coach wife Karen (Kristen Bell) to come back to him. Initially annoyed with each other due to clashing ideologies and own personal issues, until they single out veteran CHP officer Ray Kurtz (Vincent D’Onofrio) as their chief suspect and find a way to root out the corruption plaguing the CHP leading to an onslaught of verbal sparring, explosions, gunplay and one especially gory moment. I’m not going to deny that this film is quite juvenile, mainly as a lot of the sexual humor seems pretty forced, although some of it, like the yoga pants jokes, had me laughing out loud. It’s easy to see why critics are tearing the film apart. The film is often little more than crude jokes and motorcycle chases. With Dax Shepard at the helm, we understand going in that the raunchy humor faucet will be fully open. Topics covered in one-liners, gags and recurring themes include: homophobia, sexting, masturbating, bowel movements, and marriage therapy, d**k jokes, prescription drugs, paparazzi, and yoga pants. But seriously, how many “eating a**” jokes does one film need? It’s a topic that goes from uncomfortable to unnecessary pretty quickly. Shepard‘s Baker for example takes a lot in stride – His wife’s obvious infidelity, his advanced age, Ponch’s bathroom habits etc. He takes it all in stride with the exception of his work which he takes on with the vigor of a newly endowed meter maid. It’s supposed to be a reoccurring joke yet because the film is so shoddily edited there are so many, either setups that are never executed or comedic payoffs that seem to come out of nowhere. Then they simply drop it in favor of Ponch’s romance, I guess with a fellow officer (Bock)? Through all the mired, half-realized nonsense, only one thing remains clear – the film was trying, trying to follow the exact same playbook as 21 Jump Street. Even though, I did laugh a little throughout the film but there wasn’t anything really memorable about the comedy. Let’s face it, most modern comedies are all about the cursing, and while it was slightly diluted, there was unnecessary use of the cursing that wasn’t funny to me. In addition, there were plenty of moments that could have been comedic gold, but the direction took a different path that was rushed and lazy, leaving little wit, surprise, or delivery to maximize laughs. And the perverted aspect, much like the cursing, got pretty old quickly. No offense to anyone’s bodies, but there were a couple of scenes where I couldn’t burn the image/concept out of my head, leaving me sicker to the stomach than laughing. As for the Kristen Bell moments, they played a key character development, but her limited screen time was shallow stupidity than entertaining, but hey she did look good doing it. However the film does earn brownie points in some departments, mainly as you don’t really expect extensive character development in a comedy. It can be one of those things that are a considered a nice touch but it’s rarely essential.
The film wasn’t an especially deep film but I did like the friendship that eventually formed between Ponch and Baker, the highlight being the scene where Ponch has to carry his naked, half-paralyzed buddy (Baker suffers from severe rheumatism when it rains) to the bathroom, it’s hilarious! I actually even felt sorry for Baker despite the fact he was useless in essential functions of his job. He’s oblivious to the situation he faces and it takes someone like Ponch to open his eyes just enough to comprehend what’s going on. Most people know Dax Shepard as an actor (I remember him from Without a Paddle) but he’s actually directed film before (Brother’s Justice and Hit and Run). I really didn’t like Hit and Run and didn’t bother to check out the other one, but the note I took from that film was that he knew how to create some gorgeous shots of cars and car chases. He continues that here and while the action scenes aren’t superhero flashy, they feature some pretty solid riding and some almost pornographic sequences of these beautiful motorcycles and what they can do. It was one of the better parts of the film and it shows that you don’t have to have a gigantic budget to entertain action film junkies. The film is eventually watchable thought, mainly due the excellent chemistry between Dax Shepard and Michael Pena as it goes a long way in terms of making up for some of the flaws in the script. Without any chemistry between the two leads, this could have been a disaster, but Shepard and Pena seem to genuinely like each other, and their characters’ eventual friendship feels genuine. It also helps that, although there are certainly over-the-top situations and sequences here, the characters themselves are never treated as completely cartoonish or overly heightened just for the sake of comedy. Michael Pena showed his dynamic acting style, portraying both rough edged street smarts with sexual promiscuity. The stubborn mule Pena plays is blind-sided by his weaknesses, and only Dax‘s character can deter him from the trap that is his mind. It was very entertaining (and impressive) to see the energy both brought to the mix, alongside decent character development, kept the film going. In supporting roles, Rosa Salazar, Jessica McNamee, Adam Brody and Isiah Whitlock Jr where are all decent. Kristen Bell was good in here small part as well, so was Josh Duhamel. Nowadays, it seems that Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil, Jurassic World) is the bad guy in every film I am watching. Here, the prolific film and television actor portraying the evil mastermind behind the heists is likable, even though not much is known about this character with the exception that he has a drug-addicted son played by Justin Chatwin, who is unfortunately wasted here. On the whole, ‘Chips’ is watchable for Shepard and Pena‘s chemistry, yet is lead down by its lazy writing, shoddiness and unoriginality. There are just better comedies out there but if you can keep expectations low, you might end up liking this.
Directed – Dax Shepard
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes