CHiPs (2017) Review
“BUDDY COP” ENDEAVOR
Back in 1977, viewers were introduced to the world of the highway patrol officers of Baker and Ponch in the TV show CHiPs. Created by Rick Rosner, CHiPs (steaming from the abbreviation of “California Highway Patrol), followed the adventures of Jon Baker (actor Larry Wilcox) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) as a pair of motorcycle police officers who dealt with various issues from freeway pileups to chases. While not a monstrous big hit, the television series lasted until 1983, comprised of 139 episodes over six seasons. In comparison to the average lifespan Today’s TV shows, that’s extremely good. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and actor / director Dax Shepard see to reimagine the classic TV show for the big screen with the comedy / action film CHiPs. Does this remake worth a glance or is it just another generic “buddy cop” movie from Hollywood?
One day in California, a band of criminals robs millions of dollars from an armored car, leaving one police officer dead in the process. As the California Highway Patrol begin their investigation in the matter, they suspect the job was done by some “dirty cops”, calling on the FBI to help out with the case. The Bureau sends the skilled, yet irreverent, Miami-based agent Castillo (Michael Pena) out west to go undercover with the CHiPs, under the identity name of Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. Once there, Ponch is paired with aged rookie Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), an X-Games burnout who has suffered one too many injuries in his career and is desperately trying to save his failing marriage with his ex-wife Karen (Kristen Bell) by making working at the Highway Patrol. The pair must put aside their polar opposite differences to team up and solve the mystery behind the armored car job, probing for clues and to pinpoint who (amongst their fellow law enforcement peers) is friend and foe.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
To be quite honest, I never seen an episode of the CHiPs TV series. I know of it and seeing a few snippets of it here and there (my first really mentioning of the show was from watching the cartoon show Space Ghost: Coast to Coast). I know the TV show has its fan and some entertainment value, but I’ve never sat down and watched a full episode (I might do so…one day). Anyways, I’d heard about some movie news online that Hollywood was going to make CHiPs into a remake film, a going trend of Hollywood of rebranding old properties with modern day twists and nuances. However, while I usually see a movie’s trailer a lot in theaters (due to me venturing to my local movie theater once or twice a week), I actually never saw the trailer for this new CHiPs movie (still haven’t) as I’ve only seeing a few TV spots for it. Because of that and since I didn’t hear that much hype about it on the internet, I was at first not interested in seeing. However, I had some time to kill and didn’t feel like watching some completely serious (it was a tossup between either this movie or the sci-fi horror drama Life). I choose the former rather the latter and purchased a movie ticket to see CHiPs. What did I think of it? Well, let’s say that’s it’s not good, finding CHiPs to be generic “buddy cop” movie that really doesn’t rise to the challenge nor leave a lasting or memorable impression to its name. In short, CHiPs is just a bad movie.
For the most part, CHiPs is such an unremarkable film (with so many problems) that it’s amazing that this film project was greenlit by Warner Bros. Pictures, a studio that had such big and / or promising films coming out this year including Wonder Woman, Justice League, and Dunkirk. It goes without saying that CHiPs will become the “black sheep” of Warner Bros. 2017 releases.
CHiPs is directed by actor Dax Shepard, who has been credited to directing such projects like Brother’s Justice and Hit and Run as well as starring in such TV / films projects including Parenthood, Punk’D, and Zathura: A Space Adventure. In addition to directing as well as starring in the movie, Shepard also penned the film’s script. This trifecta of directing, acting, and writing has been done before with a recent attempt by actor Ben Affleck with Live by Night. However, while Affleck’s gangster crime drama had its faults, there was still much to like about it. In the case of Shepard’s CHiPs…. there’s really not much to offer in overall likeability, finding the now 42-year-old actor struggling with his approach to the movie in all three roles he plays in this project.
Of course, Shepard tries to “modernize” CHiPs, bringing the tale to present day and finding Baker and Ponch in a more 2017 environment and situations. While his intentions are made clear, Shepard’s overall execution is off right from the get-go. Why? Because the film follows a very industry standard of a “paint-by-numbers” formula that does even remotely try to bring anything innovated or fresh into this genre. To be fair, the whole “buddy cop” angle has been done and played out many times before. Thus, when movies usually play the role up, it’s already at a disadvantage, which means that the movie needs to bring something new to the table to counterbalance it (something like 21 Jump Street with its commentary on modern-day teenager High School culture). Unfortunately, CHiPs doesn’t do that, playing out its narrative in a very much familiar tone and predictably, which may leave some viewers (including myself) feeling bored. Even the whole concept of the “Highway Patrol” seems a bit irrelevant in the movie, fading into the background to play out the “dirty cop” angle. Again, this could’ve been some type of commentary on modern law enforcement (in a clever / humorous way), but, as it stands, Shepard and his team miss that opportunity for a conventional narrative of two polar opposite cops and nothing more.
As a lot of “buddy cop” films out there, CHiPs is presented as an action / comedy film. However, even on that front, Shepard struggles. The film’s comedy is mostly what you would expect to find in a adult R-rated comedy, with a plethora of crude jokes and raunchy sight gags. Unfortunately, most of these jokes are not sharp, coming off as dull and unoriginal and not unfunny, which means that these jokes and gag scenarios fail to hit their targets. There are a couple that do “land their plane” that made me laugh, but that was only few and far between. As for the film’s action…. there’s some, but not a whole lot. There’s a couple of sequences of motorcycle chases and some shootouts, but (for the most part) the action is downplayed a lot and what is shown is pretty mundane in comparison to some actions thrills we’ve already seeing this year (i.e. John Wick: Chapter 2 or XXX: The Return of Xander Cage).
Much like the rest of movie, the production quality in CHiPs is a mix bag of just being okay. There’s really nothing remarkable to talk about in either the film’s costumes, it’s production layout, its camera angles, or even cinematography (there’s a couple of slow-motion scenes, but that’ about it). Even the film’s score (composed by Fil Eisler) didn’t stand out to me.
As one can already summarize, especially since this movie is a “buddy cop” movie, the relationship between Baker and Ponch is the main narrative in CHiPs, with the film’s side-stories been tethered alongside them. However, even that crucial and simple element is pretty bland as it’s somewhat difficult to actually pin point that the pair make a great team. Like similar films of the genre, the duo (at first) are complete opposite, but most comes together (and work as team) to overcome a plan. Again, its common narrative storytelling arc, but one that needs to be elevated by the movie’s writing and / or the charismatic talents of the actors. Unfortunately (man… I’m really using this word a lot in this review), CHiPs doesn’t offer that at all, playing out the common thinly sketched role of the two cops (one is sensitive and a bit naïve, while the other is more macho and experienced).
Actors Dax Shepard and Michael Pena play the film’s two main character of Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello. Both actors have proven that they can act as well as do comedy bits (See Pena’s roles in Ant-Man, The Martian, and Collateral Beauty), but their roles in CHiPs aren’t there best work in their careers. Personally, I think Pena does a better job in the movie than Shepard did. Shepard, while trying to be funny, doesn’t achieve that goal; acting more goofy and bland than trying to be memorable. Pena’s Ponch has bit more funnier and more comfortable in the role. Naturally, Shepard and Pena have a good chemistry as the pair play off one another in their banter remarks, but their overall dynamics and overall storyline arcs (both personal and as a team) are underdeveloped and underwritten. Plus, Poncho’s serve case of sex addiction seems a bit cartoon and doesn’t really go anywhere besides a few attempted raunchy laughs.
As for the film’s side / supporting characters, they too are unremarkable and thinly-sketched caricatures, despite some of them having recognizable names. Officer Vic Brown the film’s antagonist character, is played by actor Vincent D’Onofrio. Known for his roles in Jurassic World, 2016’s The Magnificent Seven, and Netflix’s Daredevil, D’Onofrio is underutilized in his role as CHiPs’s main bad guy. True, he fits the part perfectly (in both appearance and attitude), but the character is bland and has minimal screen-time to make an impact or impression other than he the film’s main bad guy. There’s a little bit of a relationship with him and his junkie son (played by actor Justin Chatwin), but that sub-plot story just scratches the surfaces and nothing more. To be honest, the movie immediately points out that D’Onofrio’s character is the film’s main bad guy, despite the film trying to play out the angle of Baker and Ponch figuring out who’s behind it all. Another disappointing mark for this movie.
Dax Shepard’s real-life wife (actress Kristen Bell is featured in the movie as Baker’s ex-wife Karen. Bell, who’s known for his role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Veronica Mars, and Frozen, has little to do in CHiPs as we (the viewer) don’t really get a good sense of her character, who’s basically acts as a plot device for the movie and nothing more. Bell’s performance is okay, but there’s not much to it. Rounding out the cast are familiar actors and / or recognizable from other film / TV projects. This includes Adam Brody, Ryan Hansen, Maya Rudolph, Ben Falcone, Richard T. Jones, and Isiah Whitlock Jr., who make up small roles in the film.
California Highway Patrol Officers Baker and Ponch are back on-duty in the movie remake CHiPs. Dax Shepard’s newest directorial film that’s based on the cult-classic late 70s / early 80s TV show knows what it wants to be, but just never gets there, choosing to go the more commonplace route of cheap R-rated laughs and scenarios and other conventional material rather than more creative innovation to bring to the overall freshness of its source material (i.e. 21 Jump Street). With perhaps the only saving grace of Michael Pena and few comedic gags, the movie itself is an absolute misfire, one that fails to impress on almost every front and in almost every aspect. Personally, it was boring movie. I kind of figure that from the get-go (and even before that), but still I was expecting something more than what I watched. Thus, with the jokes relatively flat, poor writing, a weak approach to a story, and its overall generic “buddy cop” angle, CHiPs is a flat-out dud, disappointing today’s moviegoers as well as longtime fans of the show. This means that my recommendation for this movie is definitely (and unequivocally) a hard “Skip It”. Unless you were really taken with marketing campaign for this movie (I don’t think anyone was), CHiPs will undoubtedly become one of the weakest movies of the 2017 year (definitely going to be on my Top Ten “Worst Movies of 2017), producing a film that remarkably unremarkable. Save your money and just watch a few episodes of the original TV shows. I wish someone gave me that piece of advice.
1.9 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: March 24th, 2017
Reviewed On: March 27th, 2017
CHiPs is 100 minutes and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use