By Brad Haynes
★1/2 out of ★★★★
When it comes to TV sitcom to movie transitions, it’s hard to beat The Brady Bunch Movie. And when it comes to action/drama making the big screen crossover, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s 21 Jump Street is about as good as it gets. There have been plenty of 70s and 80s series trying to make the big time with The A-Team, S.W.A.T., and The Dukes of Hazzard just a few. And coming this summer? Baywatch. But this week, we have CHIPS (with an unexplained capitalization of the traditionally lower-cased i) rolling into cinemas.
Written, directed and starring Dax Shepard, this CHIPS is NOTHING like the original dated series (and that COULD have been a good thing) which ran from 1977-1983. In fact, the main similarity is simply that both have motorcycle riding leads named Jon Baker (Shepard) and Frank Ponchorello (Michael Peña). That’s pretty much where the similarities end.
This incarnation’s Ponch (originally played by 70s sex symbol Erik Estrada, who shows up here for a tongue-in-cheek cameo appearance toward the end of the film) is an FBI agent whose overactive sex drive tends to get in the way of doing his job properly. Apparently, as some form of punishment for botching an undercover case, he is sent from Miami to Los Angeles to go undercover once again. Make sense? No, but very little in this movie actually makes sense.
Shepard’s Baker is a seriously crippled former Xtreme biker who wants to join the California Highway Patrol to win back his wife (played by Shepard’s real-life bride, Kristen Bell) who will barely give him the time of day and has already moved on to another man. Baker is a pill-popping, constantly-in-pain mess who sees the CHP as his last shot. Yes…both of our leading men are basically losers. But in the hands of Shepard and Peña, who are both oddly charismatic and at times demonstrate real chemistry with each other, that isn’t such a bad thing.
What is a bad thing is that much of the film is a jumbled mess where the humor relies heavily on exaggerated sexual talk and the gay panic experienced by Ponch, initially in the squad’s locker room and later in an awkward scene with a naked Baker in his arms. It’s just not that funny, and definitely uncomfortable enough that at the screening of the R-rated film where some parents had actually taken their younger children, some of these scenes produced exits from the theater.
But the sexual talk and situations end up seeming tame compared to the shockingly painful violence served up throughout the film. The “case” our moto-cops are trying to crack comes from within the force, where we quickly learn that a certain member of the CHP, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is a real baddie. During the exposition of the crime (major theft) and the eventual pursuit of the criminals, we’re treated to a very visual scene of a man falling to the pavement from a helicopter, a decapitation (yes…we see that head chopped right off), as well as four fingers blown from the hand of one of our protagonists. Gross, gross, gross.
The one thing that is refreshing about CHIPS is that at all times you can tell it is not just another cookie cutter project from a major studio. But the things that seem to really titillate writer/director Shepard are 1) just not that funny, and 2) oftentimes extremely offensive (and, as far as the violence goes, just plain disgusting). Closing credits give you a feel that a sequel could be coming, but unless audiences ignore critical advice and flock to the film anyway (doubtful), a sequel is highly unlikely.
The Good: Both Michael Peña and Dax Shepard display a lot of charisma and occasionally their “odd couple” pairing strikes genuine chemistry.
The Bad: The film’s sophomoric obsession with sex and disgustingly visual violence are odd bedfellows, together serving as ultimate turn offs.
Final Word: It may not be the worst TV to film transition so far (that honor might go to Dark Shadows), but it’s no 21 Jump Street.
Starring Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Jessica McNamee, Vincent D’Onofrio. Directed by Dax Shepard.
Running Time: 1hour 40 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.