It should come as no surprise to find that Hollywood’s lack of ideas has resulted in the pillaging of yet another classic TV show. Of all the reboots, there are only three that have really worked out well in my opinion. Miami Vice, thanks to the influence of cinema legend Michael Mann, The A-Team, a criminally under-appreciated gem that didn’t get its dues and 21 Jump Street, the hilarious comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Vice was a modern reimagining of the core principals of the iconic TV show. The A-Team kept its concept very much the same, and delivered an exciting, traditional action movie with a great ensemble whilst 21 Jump Street tried something different to bring its (frankly ridiculous) premise to life. All three are resounding successes in my book. CHiPs is certainly not one of those films.
I loved the CHiPs TV show. Very much a product of its time, the series featured crazy music, ridiculous freeze-frames and some brilliant tea-time action. What’s not to love about two motorcycle cops getting the job done in sunny California? CHiPs as a big screen reboot seems to adopt the 21 Jump Street approach, and in a lot of ways I can see why they felt that this was their only option. The original CHiPs was hammy at the best of times… that was part of its charm. But it certainly wasn’t a sex comedy which is ultimately what this iteration boils down to. It also lacks genuine laughs, something which 21 Jump Street manages in abundance.
Dax Shepard, a guy who I think is quite talented and frequently gets given the wrong project writes and directs this movie, and it has flashes of hope scattered throughout. He plays Jon Baker, a former X-Games rider who is in a very strained marriage, and who sees an opportunity to turn his life around in a new job as a Highway Patrol Officer. He is paired up with a loud, obnoxious cop with an ulterior motive for joining the CHP (California Highway Patrol, nicknamed ‘CHiPs’).
Michael Peña, who I praised only a few months ago as the saviour of the traditional cop duo after his stellar work in the excellent War on Everyone, is this time given a character so shallow and unlikeable, it’s hard to find any positives. Playing a dreadful bastardisation of the show’s main star Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, a role so iconically portrayed by Erik Estrada, Peña isn’t even playing the right character… he’s an undercover FBI agent posing as a fake officer named Poncherello.
The two mismatched cops stumble their way into investigating a series of high-scale robberies by a group of masked motorcycle bandits who are terrorising the Highways. Worse still, they could be getting help from inside the police department. So not knowing who to trust, Jon and Ponch begin their mission to bring them to justice.
Shepard is actually the best thing in the film; his character is likeable and he’s frequently funny. His conversation with his superior officer about his test results is genuinely hilarious, and his chemistry with the other cast members works well. Then there’s Shepard the director, who clearly knows how to shoot action. The motorcycle chases and the camera shots he chooses are brilliant and could have been used much more effectively paired up with a better script. Sadly the script is just too stuck in the past for that to happen. This feels like an early 90s pastiche rather than a genuine attempt to do something fresh or interesting.
Of the supporting cast, Adam Brody continues his one man crusade to avoid any decent script he can find and hands in another ok performance in a forgettable film. It makes me yearn for the days of The OC to return, if just so that Brody can once again find his mojo. Considering how much potential he had, it’s a real shame to see his career falter after the resounding success of that brilliant teen drama. Speaking of wasted talent, what has happened to Justin Chatwin? Relegated to a bit-part player in fodder like this, Chatwin is another guy who should be picking much better projects than this, to match his obvious talent.
Elsewhere, Vincent D’Onofrio clearly lost a bet – that’s the only reason I can think of as to why a man of his ilk is even in this movie. Kristen Bell and Jessica McNamee don’t hurt the eyes but don’t have nearly enough to do. Malcolm in the Middle star Jane Kaczmarek raises a few smiles as Jon’s superior officer.
More like a poor man’s Police Academy without the laughs than a CHiPs movie, this is a disappointment on practically every level. I expect teenage boys will get the most from the movie. But if you strip away the needlessly crass comedy and the excess padding, there’s a decent cop-duo to be found here. However I seriously doubt that the filmmakers will get a second stab at this. So CHiPs joins the ever growing pile of needless remakes, as true fans of the original look on and wonder what could have been.
Cast: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jessica McNamee, Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Ryan Hansen, Justin Chatwin, Jane Kaczmarek, Erik Estrada Director: Dax Shepard Writer: Dax Shepard Released By: Warner Bros Certificate: 15 Duration: 100 mins Release Date: 24th March 2017