Before the new CHIPS even shows a single motorcycle, the film opens with a disclaimer: “The California Highway Patrol does not endorse this film. At all.” And as the next 101 minutes of debauchery, nudity, and explosions unfold, it isn’t hard to see why. The original NBC show may have been a campy, late-‘70s action drama with minimal violence, but Dax Shepard’s big-screen take on the California Highway Patrol is distinctly R-rated.
With gratuitous nudity and multiple severed extremities, CHIPS essentially copies the 21 Jump Street model: Take a somewhat classic TV series and turn it into a film that’s bloodier, sexier, and, above all, goofier. And while CHIPS sure is goofy, it falls flat compared to other buddy-cop comedies in its genre, relying too heavily on unpleasant sex jokes (often revolving around gay panic) and a nonsensical crime plot.
Shepard pulled triple duty, writing, directing, and starring as Jon Baker, a former pro motorcycle rider who tries to save his marriage by joining the highway patrol. Never mind the fact that years of motorcycle accidents have left him broken and reliant on painkillers, or that his swim instructor wife (played by Shepard’s real-life spouse, Kristen Bell) wants little to do with him. His career takes a turn, however, when he’s partnered with a recent transfer officer, the so-called Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña). Ponch is actually an FBI agent from Miami who’s been tasked with going undercover to investigate a mysterious California crime ring.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays the ringleader of this band of dirty cops, a.k.a. a less-interesting version of Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk, but it doesn’t really matter. The bizarrely convoluted crime plot plays second fiddle to the buddy-cop camaraderie between Jon and Ponch, and although Shepard and Peña are charming enough, they get bogged down by repetitive jokes about Ponch’s sex addiction and obsession with women in yoga pants. (Practically every female character is either a selfish shrew or a sexpot eager to flash her boobs, with the exception of Maya Rudolph in a brief cameo as Jon’s superior officer.)
The actual action is exciting enough, and Shepard’s motorcycle chase scenes are a welcome respite of both action and comedy. But the rest of the film is lazily plotted and only sporadically funny, depending on your tolerance of jokes about sexting the wrong person. Best to avoid this one like the 405 during rush hour. C–