A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2017

CHIPS j

2017, R, 100 mins.

 

Michael Peña as Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello  /  Dax Shepard as Jon Baker  /  Jessica McNamee as Lindsey Taylor  /  Adam Brody as Clay Allen  /  Ryan Hansen as Brian Grieves  /  Maya Rudolph as Sgt. Hernandez  /  Adam Rodríguez as Shamus  /  Monica Padman as Becky

 

Written and directed by Dax Shepard
 

 

CHIPS is so infuriatingly awful in so many head spinning ways that I grew angrier just thinking about them as I endured its 100 minutes.  This is a remake that, as far as I believe, no one really was clamoring for.  

More specifically, it's a remake of a late 1970's/early 1980's TV series that many filmgoers today arguably haven't watched, let alone heard of.  Worst of all, CHIPS is a "comedy" that squanders some decent talent in front of and behind the camera in an egregiously wasteful effort that shows not only great contempt for moviegoers, but equal amounts for those very few diehards that still exist for the small screen program that inspired it.   

The CHIPS TV series, I'm assuming, still has some devotees out there.  The Rick Rosner created show centered on the exploits of California Highway Patrol officers (or "CHiPs") and is one of those pandering and soft pedaled police procedurals that only its era in question could have produced.  The options to craft a remake of it for the purposes of farcical comedy and/or satire are abundantly there, which is precisely what the makers of the STARSKY AND HUTCH movie remake did over a decade ago, not to mention other recent examples like the 21 JUMP STREET series.  The central sin of Dax Shepard's approach with CHIPS (he serves quadruple duty and star, writer, director and producer) is that it contains not one iota of satirical self deprecating appreciation for the TV series at all.  Instead, it's a monumentally tone deaf remake that substitutes in rampant idiotic crudeness that Shepard sure thinks is a riot.  Someone on this planet gave this man millions of dollars to make CHIPS, and the resulting product is a beyond shameful indictment of that short sighted money lender. 

 

 

Even more frustrating for viewers is that  CHIPS contains one of the most needlessly convoluted and murky plots for a movie adaptation of a TV show that I've certainly seen, especially for one that contains as much vile humor about penises, testicles, pubic hair, bodily functions, homophobia, and anal sex (although not in that precise order).  There's this California Highway Patrol officer, Vic (the inexplicably cast Vincent D'Onofrio, who plays the part like he wandered in off of the set of a Kubrick film), that has masterminded a series of masked robberies to help him and his junkie son (Justin Chatwin).  Investigating this is an undercover Miami FBI agent (Michael Pena, slumming in hard core here) that decides to go undercover for CHiPs as "Ponch", who's paired for reasons never fully explained with a new rookie partner, Jon (Shepard), a former motorcross athlete that's now addicted to pain killers because of too many freak accidents (there's a throwaway scene that's supposed to be hilarious explaining how this pill popper would ever be given the green light to join law enforcement, but it's just one of the many painfully awkward scenes in the film that elicits more silence than laughter). 

Jon, like most hopeless greenhorns, desperately wants to impress Ponch and his superiors, but he's such a cardinal eff-up in life and on the job that he becomes a laughing stock.  He's also ridiculously naive, seeing as he can't tell that his ex-wife (played by Shepard's real wife Kristen Bell) has clearly moved on with another man...even when that man is intimately draped around her in a swimming pool.  Unfortunately, Ponch and Jon just can't find a way to gel cohesively together as partners, seeing as the former is essentially a dim witted drug addict and the former is...a sexual deviant whose perverted obsessions get in the way far too often (women in tight yoga pants are his kryptonite).  Their case against Vic does manage to break as some clues emerge that points towards his guilt, which leads to Ponch and Jon predictably settling their differences to go on the offensive and put this man behind bars.

Where do I ever begin with relaying how hopelessly wrongheaded CHIPS is?  For starters - and as mentioned - this is a horrible appropriation of the source material.  Now, not every remake has to pitch perfectly adapt its antecedent (slavish faithfulness is the kiss of death for many remakes), but Shepard's mournful idea of a remake is to take a quaint series from yesteryear and amp up the hard R-rated crudeness to off putting levels to somehow make the once innocent material grittier and edgier.  This approach made CHIPS insufferable for me...and I'm not even a fan of the TV series.  It's also abundantly obvious that Shepard was trying to mime the flavor and overall approach of the 21 JUMP STREET films, but those films were able to be amusingly raunchy comedies that had endearing characters with hearts.  There's not one soulfully relatable character in CHIPS to latch on or relate to. 

Just consider the two main "hero" characters.  Jon is a pathetic sad sack of a human being that has very few socially redeeming qualities.  Ponch is even more annoying, seeing as he's a creepy sex addict that requires frequent stops at gas station washrooms during the work day to masturbate his sexual frustrations away...and we're supposed to like this character?  Then there is the repellent homophobic humor that taints this film like a bloody stain that's hard to overlook, but Shepard believes in his heart of hearts that it's progressive minded and riotously funny.  The film contains multiple scenes where the Jon questions Ponch's sexuality, followed by questions regarding his acceptance of homosexuals.  This culminates in a scene that involves Ponch having to carry the naked Jon (don't ask) into his bathtub and involves his face accidentally coming in contact with his exposed groin.  Dreadful scenes like this grind CHIPS down to a screeching halt.  

The film also paints these male "heroes" with chauvinistic strokes that's frankly unsettling, but somehow Shepard, again, believes it's cutting edge and darkly amusing.  All of the female characters are essentially reduced to objectified props in the story...and ones that are easily conquered by the "heroes."  To prove his character's heterosexuality, Shepard concocts a scene that involves the two talking about women performing anilingus on them, which has no business being in any adaptation of a cheesy and innocent disco era cop show.  Nearly every female character here is either an obnoxious shrew or a sex kitten that are perplexingly attracted to the main leads.  Shepard shameless throws in one male gay CHiPs officer to somehow deflect these issues, but the character is such an non-entity in the film that you want to just throw your popcorn at the screen out of sheer annoyance.   

I will say one good thing about CHIPS: Shepard does some visually creative things with the camera during many of the film's motorcycle chase sequences.  He's not a writer/director without talent (look at his very underrated HIT AND RUN).  Yet, whatever modest abilities he possesses it's all for naught because CHIPS is a bewildering misfire of unimaginable proportions.  It has no idea at times what kind of film it's trying to be: At one point we have violent scenes of bullet spraying gore and murder-suicide followed later by inane moments of scatological comedy involving men's private parts touching one another while hugging in a locker room.  CHIPS is miserably all over the proverbial map, and Shepard's inclination to raw up the old TV series with juvenile vulgarity is off-putting, to say the least.  While watching this film you're forced to ask whether Shepard has even watched an episode of the semi-classic show that inspired it...or whether he even cared in the slightest about a passably decent finished product. 

 

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