As audiences, we’ve grown used to seeing old TV shows converted into movies. Between 21 Jump Street and the upcoming Baywatch, you’ve got concepts that make sense. One gets the impression that CHIPS came about because Dax Shepard (Hit and Run) wanted to make a movie without having to come up with a skeleton, and the rights probably weren’t worth anything. No one was clamouring for CHIPS, and it doesn’t have the pedigree to overcome that obstacle.
Jon Baker (Shepard), unskilled at anything but motorcycle driving, joins the California Highway Patrol (CHIPS) to impress his estranged wife (Kristen Bell, Bad Moms). He gets partnered with an FBI agent going undercover as Francis “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña, Collateral Beauty), who is trying to infiltrate a crooked heist team operating within CHIPS, lead by Ray Kurtz (Vincent D’Onofrio, Rings).
CHIPS, written, directed by and starring Dax Shepard, is a movie that forgets its conceit almost as soon as it is introduced. Ponch is terrible as an undercover agent, and this never makes sense: that’s his standard job in the FBI. His inability to blend in is nonsensical, and none of his bad cop antics are funny, which is appropriate because it matches the rest of the movie. Shepard is self-aware enough to know that no one cares about Baker’s backstory — literally every character in the movie tells him this to his face — but not so much that it’s not in the film.
Peña is operating on a watered down version of his unattractive character from 2016’s Water on Everyone, the sort of role that he can play in his sleep. It would be difficult to say that he and Shepard lack chemistry, because Shepard lacks screen presence in the first place; with so many scenes shot in extreme close up, it’s hard to see him at any rate.
The jokes in the film are thin on the ground, and most of them are retrograde jabs at women. How you can cast women in a film just so that you can repeatedly accuse them of being ugly reflects poorly everyone involved: some of them, like Rosa Salazar (TV’s Man Seeking Woman) and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her Mae Whitman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), have worked with Shepard before; Bell is Shepard’s wife in real life. Where the profit was in Jane Kaczmarek’s three short scenes is a complete mystery. Outside of that, there’s a lot of jokes about touching penises, and not a lot else besides.
Tonally, CHIPS lurches far worse when it very briefly attempts the drama stakes. There’s a serious storyline about heroin addiction lurking in here that D’Onofrio desperately tries to play sensitively, which is concluded in the most obscene manner one could imagine. Shepard is sloppier here than anywhere else, and it hurts a film that could not stand to be hurt much more than it already has been. The action sequences aren’t particularly thrilling, but on top of that, they don’t flow in a logical fashion; from one cut to the next, it’s hard to see how the bikes in pursuit got from a highway to a beach to a canal, unless you’re intimately familiar with the streets of LA (and even then, you’d have to care).
CHIPS is a vulgar and unthrilling comedy based on a forty-year-old franchise that no one looks particularly fondly on, its only claim to memorability being its repeated reference to analingus. That’s exceedingly little to base a film around. 2017 will have to keep its fingers crossed for Baywatch, because CHIPS is not going to scratch that televisual transformative itch for anyone.
CHIPS opened in Australian cinemas on April 6, 2017.
Directed by: Dax Shepard.
Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Rose Salazar, Adam Brody, Vincent D’Onofrio and Kristen Bell.