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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.