DIR/WRI: Dax Shepard • PRO: Ravi D. Mehta, Andrew Panay, Rick Rosner, Dax Shepard • DOP: Mitchell Amundsen • ED: Dan Lebental • DES: Maher Ahmad • MUS: Fil Eisler • CAST: Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Jessica McNamee
Buddy cop comedies are rarely good and CHiPs is unfortunately no exception. Based off the TV series of the same name that ran forty years ago, the antics of Frank Ponch and Jon Baker are brought into the modern era. Director, writer, and star Dax Shepard was clearly never told that some things are better left in the past where they rightfully belong.
Former motocross champion Jon Baker (Shepard) joins the California Highway Patrol in order to save his failing marriage to Karen, an underused and unlikable Kristin Bell. Michael Peña, normally a comedy wizard, does his best as Ponch while working with a poor script and even worse direction. Vincent D’Onofrio appears as the bloodthirsty crooked cop Ray Kurtz and, considering his history of unhinged characters in the likes of Full Metal Jacket and Netflix’s Daredevil, does quite well in the role.
CHiPs suffers greatly from a poor script. Action set pieces that would have been impressive forty years ago feel like old hat in this reboot. Considering what could have been done with two cops on high-powered motorcycles the chase sequences and highway set action sequences feel consistently underwhelming. Even the fight scenes flounder around the average mark and all of the crippling injuries Shepard’s character Jon Baker suffers are explained away by a metal bone in his arm. It doesn’t help that Shepard looks like a roughed-up Zach Braff. Unlike Braff however, Shepard and his script aren’t funny.
Around ninety percent of the jokes in CHiPs fall flat. Instead of delivering a proper punchline a great deal of the jokes peter off into awkward silence or pregnant pauses. I’m no fan of the canned laughter they use on sitcoms but CHiPs could have used some just to alleviate the cringe factor of all those faceplants Shepard intended to be jokes. The film falls nowhere in between the high or low-brow spectrum of comedy. Instead it’s a no-brow comedy. Any brows this film might’ve had were shaved off by Dax Shepard’s poor writing and lazy direction.
The film has some bright spots. Peña delivers his lines with the same commitment of other big-budget comedic roles he’s had such as Ant-Man and The Martian. The effects and stunt work are occasionally impressive even if they are always uninspired. An appearance by Jane Kaczmarek of Malcolm in the Middle fame feels natural and might just be the only original idea Shepard had. Still these little glints of hope are like finding a piece of stained glass in a landfill. The potential was there but somewhere along the way it broke apart.
CHiPs is Dax Shepard’s attempt to mix action and comedy, which he was done before with mixed results in 2012 with Hit and Run. Shepard has spent his life writing jokes and bringing them to the screen and stage with varying degrees of success. In an attempt to diversify in terms of genre, Shepard ultimately finds himself struggling to tread water and worse failing to mix the two genres that makes either interesting.
15A See IFCO for details
CHiPs is released 24th March 2017