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Review: CHIPS (2017)

CHIPS (2017)

Directed by: Dax Shepard

Premise: An adaptation of the 1970s television show. An FBI agent (Michael Pena) goes undercover within the California Highway Patrol. He is partnered with a rookie (Dax Shepard) and the two of them investigate corruption.

What Works: CHIPS is the third feature film directed by Dax Shepard, who also co-stars in this movie. His previous directorial effort was 2012’s Hit and Run which was terrible but did have some energetic and well-choreographed chase sequences. With CHIPS, Shepard proves himself a capable director of automotive action. The chase sequences are the one redeemable aspect of this movie and whenever the officers are in pursuit on their motorcycles, CHIPS has a kinetic visual style. It’s also notable that the bike sequences are also the only time when the comedy works and Shepard demonstrates some aptitude for staging physical gags. There is a possibility that Dax Shepard could become an accomplished second unit director if someone were to give him a worthwhile set piece and a cast that didn’t include himself or Michael Pena.

What Doesn’t: The very existence of a CHIPS feature film is odd. This is an adaptation of a half-forgotten television show that premiered over forty years ago. It doesn’t have the title recognition of other retro properties and so CHiPs doesn’t lend itself to the kind of self-aware humor that worked so well in the 2012 version of 21 Jump Street. The unfamiliarity of CHiPs offers the filmmakers a chance to do something creative with it like the 2006 adaptation of Miami Vice, which was a serious contemporary action movie adapted from a dated property. The filmmakers of CHIPS don’t quite know what to do with this material. That’s obvious in the film’s mess of a story. CHIPS is ostensibly about an investigation into corruption within a police department but the story doesn’t make any sense. The detective work doesn’t lead logically from one clue to the next. Even in a comedy, stories must have a consistent internal logic. CHIPS presents gunfights and other violence that are credible and life threatening in one scene and cartoonish in the next. Any holdout fans of the television show won’t recognize it in this film. For everyone else, the movie is unimaginative and unfunny. In many respects, the picture is less like the CHiPs television series and much more like Reno 911! but it’s not nearly as funny or as endearing. The officers played by Michael Pena and Dax Shepard are unlikable and the rest of the cast is uninteresting. Whenever CHIPS isn’t racing, which is much of the picture, it devolves into meanness, homophobia, sexism, and soporific comedy. This film is dreadfully unfunny. There aren’t really any jokes in it. A joke has a set up and a pay off. CHIPS never does that. Most of the film’s attempts at humor involve the characters saying something grossly inappropriate or degrading women or falling over on their bikes. The filmmakers’ regard for women is especially terrible. Michael Pena’s character views women as conquests and sex objects and he constantly ogles female characters. As if we didn’t understand the concept of objectification, the filmmakers go the step of explicitly visualizing his scopophilia with plenty of extreme close ups of women in yoga pants. But the way the filmmakers look at the other women of CHIPS is equally sexist. The female officers are consistently marginalized and the wife of Dax Shepard’s character (Kristen Bell) is a skullduggerous gold digger. In addition to being sexist, CHIPS is also homophobic. This is made worse by the filmmakers’ disingenuousness. Early on the moviemakers attempt to persuade us that they are being ironic somehow but the pretension quickly falls away in favor of gay panic comedy.

Bottom Line: CHIPS is unfunny and sloppy but it’s also an ugly film. It won’t satisfy the nostalgia anyone might have for the original television show and it doesn’t have anything to offer contemporary viewers except a scattershot tone and lame attempts at humor. 

Episode: #641 (April 2, 2017)