Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dax Shepard
Stars: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kristen Bell, Adam Brody, Isiah Whitlock jr, Jessica McNamee, Ryan Hansen, Justin Chatwin, Ben Falcone, Richard T Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, Adam Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph, Rosa Salazar.
Producers continue to tap into Gen X nostalgia by adapting classic television shows from the 60s and 70s for the big screen. Often though they get it wrong, by either miscasting iconic roles or by misjudging the tone of the piece or not understanding the appeal of the original, thereby tarnishing the brand recognition – a case in point would be the diabolically awful big screen versions of The Wild Wild West and Lost In Space. And another example would be this adaptation of CHIPS, a series following the adventures of two motorcycle cops with the California Highway Patrol, which ran from 1977-1983. It stumbles badly. If you were a fan of the original series you may want to look away now!
As writer, director and star of this instantly forgettable version of CHIPS Dax Shepard (star of television’s Parenthood, etc) must shoulder most of the blame for this disappointing misfire. It’s almost as if Shepard has never seen an episode of the original series and doesn’t understand its appeal.
The central plot here is fairly generic stuff and familiar – a group of rogue corrupt cops, led by Raymond Kurtz (a surly Vincent D’Onofrio), are robbing armoured trucks and making their getaway on motorcycles. The FBI send in trigger-happy Florida based agent Castillo (Michael Pena) to infiltrate the California highway patrol and identify the culprits. Castillo poses as Frank Poncherello. To ensure that he isn’t paired up with one of the suspects they team him with rookie officer Jon Baker (Shepard), a former motocross champion. Baker is addicted to drugs and booze to dull the pain from the many injuries and broken bones he suffered during his previous career. He is not the best policeman around – he can’t shoot straight, he barely meets the minimum physical requirements, but he sure can ride a motorbike. Baker is hoping that his job will help repair his marriage to the bitchy Karen (played by his real-life wife Kristen Bell, best known for playing Veronica Mars). Poncherello for his part is a sex addict. These two deeply flawed characters find it hard to work together as a team initially, but eventually have to learn to co-operate and overcome their differences in order to solve the case.
The plot hardly matters here as Shepard and Pena spend most of their time trading insults and putdowns. Much of the success of the show revolved around the chemistry between the stars Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada (one of whom makes a brief, uncredited cameo appearance here). But is Shepard was trying to make another variation on the odd couple buddy cop formula here he has missed the mark. As a writer of this kind of fare he lacks the assurance and wit of Shane Black, who gave us the wildly successful Lethal Weapon series as well as the recent action comedy The Nice Guys which featured a combustible teaming between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Even films like 21 Jump Street succeeded because of its irreverent tone and the self-aware chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and the big screen version of Starsky And Hutch benefitted from the likeable rapport between Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller. But here the two stars lack any sort of chemistry at all.
Shepard has crammed the film full of a particularly juvenile and low brow brand of scatological humour, featuring a potentially offensive and crass string of sexist and homophobic gags, with lots of references to bodily functions and sexual positions. It seems aimed at 15-year-old boys who probably don’t even know of the series on which the characters are based.
The film is tonally uneven, and clumsily edited. Many scenes seem to go nowhere and fail to deliver a killer payoff. The nasty violence towards the end jars with some of the more genial nature of earlier scenes. And it seems as though Shepard didn’t quite know how to end it all, so he decided that he was just going to blow stuff up. However, as he demonstrated in 2012’s Hit And Run, Shepard proves to be a strong director of action sequences. There are a couple of well-choreographed chase sequences here and some great stunt work, but that is not enough to salvage this mess.
Performances across the board are pretty broad and unconvincing. Pena has appeared in some gritty dramas like Fury and End Of Watch, and he seems uncomfortable with the demands of this raucous comedy. Nonetheless he is still the best thing here. Shepard has a goofy and cocky grin the entire time and is perfectly suited to playing the dim-witted Baker. D’Onofrio is wasted and looks bored here, and delivers a tired performance as his one-dimensional character. Also wasted is a strong supporting cast that includes Adam Brody, Isiah Whitlock jr, David Koechner, Maya Rudolph, Jane Kaczmarek (from Malcolm In The Middle, etc), and Ed Begley in a meaningless cameo.
Any hopes that Shepard had of kick starting a potential new franchise along the lines of 21 Jump Street are still born. This ill-conceived serving of CHIPS is stale, cold and unappetising.