Movie Review/Interview: ‘CHIPS’ – ridin’ dirty

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Preston Barta // Editor

CHIPS
Rated R, 100 minutes.
Director: Dax Shepard
Cast: Dax ShepardMichael PeñaAdam BrodyKristen BellRosa Salazar and Vincent D’Onofrio

Helmed by and starring that one guy from PARENTHOOD, co-starring ANT-MAN’s storytelling sidekick, and based on a ’70s television series that no one cares to remember, this movie shouldn’t work.

Somehow, against the odds, CHIPS works on many levels, largely thanks to its genuine laughs that revel in the ridiculousness of its own premise while also subverting both buddy-cop dramas and high-stakes action-comedies.

Like the original series, CHIPS sees Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello paired up as motorcycle cop partners in the California Highway Patrol. But in writer-director Dax Shepard’s version, the twist is Ponch (Michael Peña) isn’t the same ladies’ man as Erik Estrada’s original character. Instead, he’s a cocky undercover federal agent who also happens to struggle with sex addiction. When he’s not shooting his ex-partner (a very funny Adam Brody) in the shoulder to snag the bad guy behind him, he’s getting frisky around Los Angeles. (It gets downright perverted.)

Meanwhile, Baker (Shepard) is far from being the goody two-shoes country boy Larry Wilcox played back in the day. Shepard shapes the character to be a heightened version of himself — someone who’s good behind anything with a motor and a thrill-seeker who has two dozen scars from X Games-related activity to prove it. However, because of his multiple injuries as a former pro motorbiker, his wife’s (Shepard’s real-life spouse Kristen Bell) interest in him begins to fade.

Dax Shepard, left, wrote, directed and stars in this modern-day CHIPS, with cast mates Michael Pena and Rosa Salazar. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Shockingly, Shepard gives each of the characters some depth and reason for being a part of the force. While Baker is trying to win back his wife’s affection by sporting a uniform and busting bad guys like her father did, Ponch is working his way to the top by investigating a multimillion-dollar heist that might be an inside job for the CHP. (Vincent D’Onofrio as intense lawman Vic Brown looks extra suspicious.)

Compared to the CHiPs series (note the lowercase “i”), which is lathered in dated queso, Shepard’s version is very much its own thing. There’s a delicate balance to walk and many questions a filmmaker must ask before riding into nostalgia: What should the tone be? Should we try to go for the same family-friendly material the show is known for — or run with it and have comedians dress up as cops, improvise on set and solely use the show’s title because fans of the series might point out subtle similarities?

Though not as sharp, the movie follows in the footsteps of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 JUMP STREET films. The comedy is rude, crude, and whenever Ponch is on screen — whether he’s observing two men’s genitalia touching in the locker room or discussing his mellow time in the bathroom — it gets marvelously foul-mouthed. Yet while the humor is definitely adult in nature, it contains a good mix of physical comedy and playful jokes that stick.

So if you leave your preconceptions at the door and just enjoy CHIPS for what it is — good, dumb fun — you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by how much the giggle injection drives right into your funny bone.

Grade: B-

CHIPS opens nationwide on Friday, Mar. 24, with early showings tonight. Check out our video interview with Dax Shepard and Michael Peña below!

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.