by Graham Pierrepoint
Dir: Dax Shepard
Starring Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Adam Brady, Jessica McNamee, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kristen Bell, Ryan Hansen, Maya Rudolph, Adam Rodrigues, Rosa Salazar, Jackie Tohn, Mara Marini
1 STARS (out of 5)
It seems that more and more comedies are coming out of the woodwork now that sporting has finally arrived, and while this can sometimes bring a nice antidote to the wealth of cheap horror movies and Oscar-bait pictures that saturate the market in the first quarter of the year, it can mean that we are lumbered with some stories that just don’t cut the mustard. It seems that the TV show-revived-as-comedy genre is yet to die off completely – if this ever was a genre – as CHiPS looks set to revive the popular 70s TV series starring Erik Estrada for a whole new audience. Unfortunately, while movies such as 21 Jump Street and its sequel do well to offer a new slant on old material without seeming too hollow or too exploitative, this film observes the other side of the coin – failing to rev up to the standards it believes it sets itself.
Baker and Ponch could hardly be more different – one’s a rookie, one’s a pro – and they’re both highway cops with the California Highway Patrol (or CHP). Ponch – his codename - who’s involved with the FBI, is looking to bust open a heist with more than a little hints at treachery within the ranks. The pair find themselves thrown together in a madcap comedy where they will have to learn to work with each other – and their various quirks – to nab the bad guys, no matter who they may be. There really isn’t much more to the plot than this – and therein lies some of the issues.
The buddy formula has been around for a long time, and last year we saw a resurgence on how to make this sort of script work through both The Nice Guys and Central Intelligence. CHiPS is certainly closer to the latter in terms of what it is aiming for – yet Central Intelligence not only benefited from a main duo with immense charisma and honed comic timing, but also from a script that knew when to throw out funny sight gags, absurd action sequences and also when to take time to generate actual drama and intrigue. CHiPS does none of this. In fact, one of the main criticisms that has been levelled at the movie surrounds just how unfunny the script is – which is surprising given some of the talent on board.
As a duo, Shepard and Pena – sadly - aren’t great. There is no denying that they are each talented professionals – yet here, they really struggle to sell comedy here. Shepard is in fact in the driving seat for this movie, making it more or less a pet project for him – yet without the balance and care applied to the script, its jokes nor its interactions or dialogue that most buddy cops at least try to attempt, it’s a movie that starts out looking desperate for laughs, and certainly maintains this streak.
Big, dumb action movies are popular. When done well, they’re extremely funny. They benefit from well-planned jokes that labour beyond tired cliches, strangely tasteless jabs at certain groups and bizarre running gags. CHiPS’ biggest fault is not its poor script or the huge void of chemistry between the characters – it’s the fact that it simply isn’t funny. It benefits far too much on back-and-forth between the two main characters – which, with other movies, wouldn’t be that big of a criticism – yet here, with a partnership that is so paper-thin and so dependent upon offensive, tasteless comedy, it’s a bit of a waste.
The script, as mentioned, isn’t much better. This is a premise that has plenty going for it – the TV show was immensely popular, and while this movie tries to ape its way into 21 Jump Street territory by being irreverent and edgy, it comes off as rather desperate. The jokes aren’t fully formed and while the cast here can pull off a better script, the absolute lack of chemistry between anybody results in a rather bland and uninspiring effort. It’s also hard to understand who this movie is for – it’s so blasé and so insistent upon itself that perhaps more easily-swayed viewers will force a chuckle – but there’s really nothing much here beneath the surface. I dare say that even fans of some of the dumbest buddy movies will struggle to find anything to latch onto here. Without standout characters, memorable moments, and with a plethora of gags that perhaps would have worked well with a little more time and attention, CHiPS fails to even live up to the base requirements of comedic cinema.
While hardly the worst movie ever put to cinema, CHiPS certainly doesn’t inspire many laughs – and when it does, they are in disbelief.