CHiPS is a big, silly goof of a good time — one of those back-slap movies squarely aimed at marketing demographics like “males who own beer funnels” or “grown men who wear sideways baseball hats.”
But a funny thing happens on the way to the vomit jokes, the naked breasts on display, the cringe-worthy bodily function discussions and the no-boundaries sexual humor: The women laugh too. The screening I attended was a full house of mixed company, and the chemistry between director/writer/star Dax Shepard and co-star Michael Pena keeps this film whizzing along enough to make the giggles pretty constant from men and women alike.
Shepard is Jon Baker, a former motorcycle racing star whose trophy wife (Kristen Bell) has one foot out the door, right after all his long-gone money. His beat-up physique is held together by scars and pain pills, but he manages to parlay his motorbike skills into a spot on the California Highway Patrol’s motorcycle patrol.
Baker’s partner is Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Pena), who isn’t so great with the bike but tries to show his newbie charge the veteran police ropes. A murder/robbery plot unravels and Ponch reveals that he actually is an FBI agent undercover in the Highway Patrol, working the case from the outside.
As Baker gets wiser in his new gig, it’s not long before he and Ponch trade their standard-issue CHiPS cycles in for Ducatis, and some great bike chases ensue. Stuff blows up, guys fight. It’s a buddy-cop-picture.
Most of the humor is puerile and eye-rolling for anyone past fifth grade, but for what it is, it is still pretty funny.
Shepard has a well-paced, no-nonsense stream-of-goofiness style as a director, and one would assume he let the clowning between himself and Pena play out in a lot of improvisation as well. Each actor’s comedic timing is stellar but the two of them together as these goofballs creates some very funny moments.
As for the nostalgia angle, Generation X-ers and older will catch a nod to the classic “CHiPS” TV show that launched Larry Wilcox and Eric Estrada’s careers, and kept actor Chris Pine’s father Robert Pine employed for six years as kindly Sgt. Joseph Getraer. The 2017 film does not dive into the kitsch of the TV show’s late '70s-early -80s milieu, which works well for what Shepard did with the story and the characters. This is a reboot, not a remake.
Will it go down as one of the greatest films of all time? No, but it’s not supposed to. This movie does exactly what it sets out to do — elbow you in the ribs, make you laugh, and not leave a mark.
2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Directed by Dax Shepard
Starring Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Kristen Bell, Adam Brody
Running Time 100 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, foul language, adult themes, violence and drug use.
A California Highway Patrol rookie learns his new partner is actually an FBI agent working undercover.