Hot Take: If you’re looking for a throwback to the old series, move along. If you’re looking for a crude, awkward, inappropriate, sexist, occasionally hilarious and completely silly premise based on characters from an old TV show, CHiPs might work for you.
Having not been someone who has seen an entire episode of CHiPs, it might be unfair for me to dismiss the new movie based on the TV show that ran from 1977-1983 as completely unlike the original show outside of the name of the two main characters and their job as members of the California Highway Patrol. However, as the central plot revolves around dirty cops and Francis Llewellyn “Ponch” Poncherello being an undercover FBI agent and his partner Jon Baker being the youngest rookie on the California Highway Patrol and a former X Games competitor, you can start to see where the movie veers away from the show. When you add in the central themes of the jokes of the movie — sex addiction, homophobia, dick bumping and other assorted dick jokes, analingus and constipation (among other inappropriate and crude jokes) — you get a clearer picture of how quickly this film took the off-ramp from a more nostalgic look at the show that ran 6 seasons and trotted out a reunion TV movie in 1998.
Written and directed by Dax Shepard who also is half of the film’s starring duo, CHiPs blows off most of the TV show it is based on and goes deep on a more crude version of a buddy cop movie. Michael Pena plays the most memorable character from the original show (played by Erik Estrada in the original show and who also makes a cameo in the film) but is technically not even Francis Poncherello as that’s his cover name as he’s an FBI agent from Miami sent undercover to find some bad cops pulling off armored car jobs in California. Shepard is Baker but isn’t the same sidekick from the show as he’s an X Games washout trying to be a cop to salvage his marriage to his wife (played by Shepard’s actual wife Kristen Bell) who is noticeably horrible to Jon and everyone notices (except Jon, of course). Baker is also kind of a screw up who couldn’t pass the Academy test but was let in because his evaluator felt sorry for him and can’t even hit any part of the target on the shooting range.
What works really well here is the chemistry between Shepard and Pena who seem to be having a blast as partners and make a lot of the crude humor work because of that chemistry. There’s an awkwardness about the film that survives because of the commitment of the entire cast which includes the consistent Vincent D’Onofrio slumming it as Lieutenant Ray Kurtz who is an obvious bad guy and thankfully never treated as a mystery. Other solid performances are delivered by Jane Kaczmarek, Richard T. Jones, Adam Brody and Isiah Whitlock Jr..
Not all of the jokes work. Actually, a lot of them miss their target but they come at such a rapid fire pace, the quantity of the hits is enough to produce a few laugh out loud moments even if you feel a little guilty for finding such juvenile escapist humor funny. Like Kong: Skull Island, CHiPs has a summer movie feel about it as it escaped a January release which often is reserved for mediocre buddy cop comedies alongside the dump movies. It’s a popcorn flick but might upset some looking to relive the nostalgia of the CHiPs TV show. That audience might be better served hunting down the CHiPs ’99 TV movie as there’s barely the skeletal remains of the TV show as the film update cremates whatever remains were left from the original show.
Any recommendation to see CHiPs comes with a huge asterisk as this film is not for everyone. It’s pretty safe to say that if you watch the trailer and are moderately amused, you’ll probably enjoy the finished product. One thing the film has going for it is there are more jokes in the movie than are advertised in the trailer which is a huge plus for any comedy as many comedies take their biggest swings in their preview. However, some of the biggest laughs in this buddy cop comedy aren’t revealed in the film. If you don’t laugh at the trailer at all, though, you might want to get off the exit before getting caught up in a film you’ll probably hate by the time Erik Estrada makes his cameo.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Pena & Shepard
The duo who play “Ponch” and Jon are, dare I say, dynamic enough to spawn sequel talk. It’s likely a poor box office performance will squash those plans rather quickly and expectations are very low for this “adaptation” at the cinema this weekend. Maybe their best hope is to work together on a different film in the future.
- Ditching Its TV Show Roots
Let’s be real here, the original TV show would not work all that well in the modern age. The choice to ditch the original show’s roots was probably a smart one even if it alienates the core audience of the original show.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Those TV Show Roots
Here’s a major problem with CHiPS: It has a built-in audience that would likely be excited with a more by-the-numbers adaptation of the original show. Also, a new audience might be a little turned off by the original show which lacks an appeal to any millennial willing to check out the show in reruns or on some streaming service. The built-in audience will hate the update. The potential new audience probably will drive past without even giving the film a second glance.
- Not the Best Look for Female Characters
While the actresses chosen to circle the orbit of the male driven plot do what they can to make the best of their roles, the film’s testosterone is on high and the treatment of the female characters is on low. It’s exactly the kind of movie that is the counter-argument to any movie with a strong female cast. It’s unfortunate, too, since most of the more sexist jokes actually don’t work.