By Chaz Lipp
The Lowdown: It’s not that CHiPS is crude (which can still be funny), it’s that the laughs are scattered so far and few between one has to wonder why they didn’t just make a half-hour TV special instead of a 101-minute feature.
The trailer for CHiPS, the new film adaptation of the late-’70s/early-’80s TV hit, is pretty funny. The movie itself, written and directed by Dax Shepard, doesn’t expand on the ‘bromance’ jokes of that trailer. At 101 minutes, CHiPS soon becomes an endurance test after an opening volley of energy. I wasn’t expecting sophistication but at least a 21 Jump Street-esque romp. Shepard has directed before (co-directed to be exact—two low-budget comedies Brother’s Justice and Hit and Run), but maybe he was the wrong guy to revive the cheesy fun of Ponch of Jon. And maybe not every cultural relic necessarily needs rebooting/reviving/remaking.
On top of writing and directing, Shepard stars as Officer Jon Baker, the oldest rookie officer in the California Highway Patrol. He’s partnered with Officer Frank Poncherello (Michael Peña), better known as Ponch. They’re an odd couple, with former extreme cyclist Jon the straight man and horndog Ponch the goofy one. There’s a plot—something about a dirty cop that Ponch (who—spoiler alert!—is actually an undercover FBI agent) is working to uncover. But the tired mass of generic cliches that serves as the story is just a structure upon which to hang a bunch of gags about Ponch’s homophobia and a variety of other primarily sex-related gags.
Even those with a taste for extremely low brow humor may very well wonder what went wrong here. A lot of modern comedies rely on the improvisational skills of their cast members. Without having any hard evidence to back this suspicion up, I can imagine the future home video release of CHiPS having one of those “Line-O-Rama” featurettes that show the actors spinning out endless (and usually increasingly wild) variations on their dialogue. Some comedies still rely on strong writing (imagine that!) rather than blind faith that any group of comic actors will be able to concoct hilarious riffs on the spot. Much of CHiPS feels interchangeable with any number of recent comedies, aspiring to the level of the very worst products of the Judd Apatow factory.
The dearth of imagination invested in CHiPS is exemplified by the lazy, but ultimately appropriate, tag line: “Chip happens.”
CHiPS images: Warner Bros. Pictures