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Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: #CHiPs

The raunch of CHiPs makes it a great comedic ride down the California highway.

Review by Matt Cummings

As a young teen, I spent more than enough time in front of the television, absorbed in now-forgettable series like CHiPs. But there are elements of this campy comedy/drama that still resonate: the excellent motorcycle sequences, those awesome Harley Davidsons, the groovy Big Band music from Season 1. Its revival in theaters this week reflects little of the series' original DNA, but it still works as a hilarious raunchy re-imagining and perhaps a blueprint for a potential franchise.

As the FBI pursues corruption within the California Highway Patrol, it assigns one of its agents (Michael Pena) to go undercover as Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello, who secretly harbors sexual desires for any woman in yoga pants, masturbating three times or more before lunch. He's teamed up with the oldest recruit in the CHP, the former motorcycle stunt rider Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), who needs this job to prove to his ex-wife (real-life wife Kristen Bell) that he's worthy. But Baker can barely stand, having broken nearly every bone in his body over his career, and Ponch thinks he's an inconsiderate fool who doesn't deserve the job. But when the corrupt officers are exposed - including veteran Vic Brown (Vincent D'Onofrio) - Jon and Ponch must put aside their differences to nab Brown and his crew before they can escape the border with millions in stolen cash.

Some will find a myriad of flaws in CHiPs: a story whose characters are merely there to advance the action and crude jokes, an over-reliance on homophobia, and a conclusion that can be seen a California highway away. If you're one of those types who poo-poo remakes like these, then you're likely not the person this movie is hoping to attract. And that's too bad, because the comedy is some of the best of 2017 so far. Pena and Shepard enjoy terrific chemistry, letting Shepard's script serve as a jumping-off point for some great ad libs. Some critics have claimed that Pena has been poorly cast, but I think it shows just how great of an actor he is, effortlessly gliding through the admittedly thin script while more than holding his own against Shepard. For Shepard, this is a reminder of how good an actor he is, as he recently finished a dramatic role in Parenthood. Both come to their respective middles and leave thoroughly entertaining us.

Shepard the director shoots some really excellent motorcycle scenes, something which the original CHiPs did so well and for so long. As a kid, it was the first time I could remember a television show spending that kind of money to show bikes from such unique angles. Here, Shepard and Stunt Coordinator Steve DeCastro do the same thing with largely the same results. I also enjoyed how crystal clear Shepard's cameras are, courtesy of DP Mitchell Amundsen who's been involved in plenty of great action flicks. But it's Shepard's ability to merge the action with the raunch that make CHiPs so damn fun. Add in the tough psycho of D'Onofrio who seems like he's perpetually about to go all Winter Soldier on someone - along with some admittedly over-the-top nudity - and you've got a really fun experience in store. If anyone goes to this movie thinking they're going to get anything more, then you're kidding yourself.

And yet, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention some of CHiPs' faults. Characters who seem to be ready for larger roles - such Adam Brody, Ryan Hansen, Richard T. Jones, and Jane Kaczmarek - all disappear into the background with a suddenness that feels like the movie was massively edited. The CHiPs theme is really there either, save for a few recognizable notes; moreover, it doesn't feel like a CHiPs movie. But in the larger picture, I can't imagine an 80's throwback version that would have worked. Frank and John never (EVER) drew their guns in the first few seasons, let alone fired them, and the cheesiness of the series really took over what could have been a great cop drama. I doubt there are many fans left of this series to cast their anger over what could be seen a huge misfire; but for me and the audience who laughed loud and often throughout, it seems like Shepard might have found a winning formula.

CHiPs is as raunchy as they come, but Shepard's sometimes slick direction and spot-on tonal changes keeps things moving towards a rewarding but entirely foreseeable conclusion. This is nowhere near the CHiPs of our youth, but I'm convinced that anything close to it was impossible without utterly failing. If this is the path Shepard and the studio wish to take, I can think of much worse ideas.

CHiPs is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use and has a runtime of 100 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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