Leave it to Hollywood to tap the familiar as a way to draw moviegoers to the big screen. Whether it be a comic book, childhood toy, or a beloved TV show, studios love to take the old, repackage it, and make it new again. For Hollywood’s latest reincarnated reboot, the campy and often cheesy 1970s TV show, CHiPs, is mined for inspiration. And like the original television show, this film focuses on two California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers, Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, as they enforce the law.
For this go-round, Dax Shepard not only stars, but writes and directs this R-rated rebirth of a classic buddy cop story. In the film, Shepherd plays officer Baker while Michael Peña portrays “Ponch.” Shepherd updates his character by making him an old and bruised X-Games motorbike star turned rookie cop who is addicted to painkillers, joining the California Highway Patrol in 2017 with the hope of saving his marriage. Likewise, Peña’s character is updated as an undercover agent from Miami sent to Los Angeles to infiltrate the highway patrol and discover which cops on the force are dirty and involved in a local crime spree.
Adam Brody also joins the cast as Clay Allen, Ponch’s old contentious partner, while Vincent D’Onofrio plays Lt. Vic Brown. Shepard’s real life wife, Kristen Bell rounds out the cast as Baker’s hot, but indifferent, soon to be ex-wife, Karen.
Unfortunately, this comedy takes a bit of time to find its funny bone. The film excels when it comes to action, opening with an intense car chase scene to grab the audience’s attention. Clearly Shepherd has studied motorcycles and their capabilities, since he has them pushing their limits. Many sequences with cars and motorcycles are not only exquisitely shot, but they’re thrilling to watch, acting as a giant commercial for the city of LA. Yes, the film even has a motorcycle chase scene on Santa Monica Beach, wheelies included.
It’s almost forgivable when Shepherd pushes the plot in a certain direction just to show off the capabilities of the bikes. It’s also easy to overlook the absurdity of Ponch and Baker’s all-blue leather sport bike outfits along with new Ducati cop bikes at times.
However, unlike the action sequences, the comedy is hard to come by until halfway through the film. Repeatedly, Shepard’s jokes and punchlines fall flat or come off as dry and awkward attempts at dialogue. Luckily, his partner Peña has his back to pick up the slack. It is Peña who makes this movie funny despite his limited comedy background. Peña plays on his and Shepard’s contentious relationship with hilarious one-liners as they try to find common ground.
Eventually Shepard does find his comic groove too by relying on knockdown, drag out, slap stick humor from his characters torn up body. The final scenes are almost like a comedic crescendo. It seems as if Peña and Shepherd are battling it out for who can be the most absurd and raunchy, which eventually culminates with an end credit sequence that will surely bring the giggles.
Adam Brody delivers similar comedic gold throughout the film despite his smaller role. Kristen Bell, meanwhile, is stuck with a character and performance that comes off as one-dimensional. D’Onofrio, however, is gives a pretty powerful turn for a comedy, commanding attention with his character’s ruthlessness.
The biggest problem with this film is that unlike Phil Lord’s and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street, this retread doesn’t acknowledge the absurdity of itself as a reboot. Similarly, it isn’t clever or creative enough with the CHiPs mythology. Instead, it follows in the same vein as Get Smart or The A-Team, mimicking the original TV show in a bid for inspiration.
However, unlike Get Smart and The A-Team, CHiPs is truly funny thanks in part to its many “OMG” moments. The film is no 21 Jump Street, but it is also no A-Team, causing it to just rise above average on a five-star scale. This movie, with its raunchy comedy and hardcore action scenes, is certainly a departure from the television show and will likely insult its loyal fans, but for newcomers, it is certainly funny and entertaining enough.