There are two good movies lurking beneath the surface of CHiPS – an R-rated comedy and an R-rated cop drama. The problem is that they’re both chopped up and are jammed together in such a way that the result is an unhappy compromise that lets down the movie as a whole.
The drama would work if the puerile comedy wasn’t stitched in and the puerile comedy would work if that pesky drama wasn’t there.
Before I continue, first let me say, as a baby boomer, I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever known who had such a strong nostalgic feeling for the TV series CHiPs that they’d welcome this movie – in either form. Second, if I did, I think they’d be appalled at how fractured the movie reimagining is.
The movie opens with the heist of an armored car. The robbers speed off on Ducatis – but not before they force a police helicopter to commit suicide to save the life of the man he loves.
Then we meet our protagonists – a seasoned, if reckless, FBI agent and a would-be officer of the California Highway Patrol.
The FBI guy is sent undercover as a CHP motorcycle patrol officer called Francis Llewelyn Poncherello (Michael Pena); the wanna-be is ex-motorcycle whiz John ‘The Baker’ Baker (Dax Shepard).
Pena is very by the book but has a weakness for hot women in yoga pants; Baker fails all his qualifications test except for the motorcycle trial but gets a probationary pass from a sergeant who feels his pain (Maya Rudolph in one of the film’s few genuinely funny bits).
Once ‘Ponch’ arrives and is partnered with Baker, the fun and games begin – though with Vincent D’Onofrio playing the head of the crooked gang of cops and acting in a completely different movie, it’s only fun & games until someone gets decapitated.
There are jokes based on Baker being too dim to see that his wife (Kristen Bell) is in a relationship with a guy she claims she’s giving swimming lessons (in a red bathing suit that makes the Baywatch suits look positively conservative). There are jokes that reek of homophobia. There are even jokes about incorrectly addressed naughty Facetime sessions.
In between the jokes – most of which are funny when they’re not outright vile – there’s dramatic stuff – like when Lt. Ray Kurtz (D’Onofrio) and his crew pull another heist, or when (on the heels of a comedy spree) someone is, in fact, decapitated.
CHIPS was written and directed by Shepard and it does have some occasional charm and when it clicks, it clicks. Unfortunately, to types of movie jammed together pretty much guarantees that whether each type works or not, unless they’re blended together skillfully (which they’re not, here), the whole just won’t cut it.
There’s enough good comedy and good drama that the film is watchable – but not exactly something that will warm the hearts of original CHiPs fans – or anyone else.
Instead, the two types of movies wind up canceling each other out – leaving a completely mundane overall result.
Final Grade: C