Film Review: CHIPS, So Overpoweringly Unlikeable
If I had to guess, I’d say that CHIPS writer-director-star Dax Shepard was going for an action comedy in the style of the Jump Street films but with even more perilous-looking stunts involving a lot of bulky motorcycles and other high-octane vehicles. What he ended up doing (along with co-star Michael Peña, from Ant-Man) is fall far short of that goal by making every character in CHIPS so overpoweringly unlikable, and not just the bad guys.
As California Highway Patrol officer Jon Baker, Shepard is only interested in following in the footsteps of his estranged wife’s (Shepard’s real-life companion Kristen Bell) father, who was himself a member of the CHP. Baker barely qualified for the job and he knows his sergeant (Maya Rudolph) is watching him carefully, so he takes unnecessary risks and continuously leaves his partner, Francis “Ponch” Poncherello (Peña) wondering what crimes he’s actually attempting to solve. It turns out Ponch is actually an undercover FBI agent, attempting to weed out criminal elements in CHP, which seem to be led by fellow officer Vic Brown (Vincent D’Onofrio), who plays the villain about as broadly and obviously as an actor possibly could.
There’s really not much to discuss when it comes to plot. Jon and Ponch race around doing some truly cool things on their 800-lb. motorbikes. Shepard’s previous directing efforts—Brother’s Justice and Hit and Run) weren’t necessarily great movies, but his attention to delivering awe-inspiring vehicle chases was admirable and impressive, and the same can be said for CHIPS. But there’s something about Baker’s complete stupidity regarding what the job is and his motivations for wanting to excel at it that feel phony and abrasive. Pair that with Ponch’s borderline homophobia and inability to overcome his chronic sex addiction, and you have one of the most annoying buddy comedies in recent memory.
None of the recognizable supporting cast, including Adam Brody and Ryan Hansen, have much to offer in terms of improving the proceedings. One of the film’s few shining elements is Rosa Salazar, who plays a CHP officer named Ava and rises above her role as simply a better love interest for Baker than his own wife. She actually challenges Baker to become a better officer and to love the job for reasons other than trying to impress his soon-to-be ex-wife.
The locker room jokes about men hugging in their underwear get old really fast, although the jokes about how brown, tight and otherwise ugly the CHP uniforms can get are timeless as they were when they were written for the 1970s TV series on which CHIPS is based. If you have a soft spot for films like Smokey and the Bandit and the lesser works of Hal Needham, you might get a kick out of this movie. Shepard knows his cars and cycles and maximizes their being smashed every chance he gets. Beyond that, CHIPS doesn’t offer much in the way of comedy, plot, characters, or the betterment of humanity. Feel free to hop on your motorcycle and drive right on by a theater that might be playing it.