I sincerely doubt that anyone wanted or needed a comedic reimagining of the long-running 1980s buddy-cop drama CHiPs, but, for our sins, perhaps we deserved one. Maybe the film would have been a more accurately titled BROS, as it takes the classic central relationship between officers Ponch and Baker and turns it into nearly two hours of tone-deaf commentary on masculinity and homoeroticism. Specifically, the film paints its protagonists as hypermasculine caricatures that somehow fail to deliver in the machismo department in spite of a script that sounds as if it were written by a 12-year-old misogynist and homophobe. What remains is a collection of gross-out gags and a surprising amount of gore, none of which amounts to much beyond an opportunity for writer/director/star Dax Shepard to incessantly mug for his own camera.
As an inveterate fan of juvenile humor, I came into this film prepared to enjoy it despite its obvious limitations. This was sadly not to be. Shepard, one of the most inconsistent comedic performers working today, is problematic here from his first scene. Michael Peña, typically a highlight, is similarly difficult to appreciate in the context of this film. The problem is not necessarily these actors or the performances they deliver, but the lack of chemistry between their characters on the page. Shepard’s Jon Baker, a burned-out X Games motorcycle racer with an opiate addiction and a cuckolding wife, joins the California Highway Patrol in an attempt to salvage his failing marriage. Peña’s Frank Poncherello (an alias) is even less fleshed out, consisting of little more than a reheated stereotype of an undercover FBI agent that could have been dragged from any number of other, better films. We know Kristen Bell is here because she’s married to the writer/director/star, but how the hell did they convince Vincent D’Onofrio to get involved? That mystery is far more compelling than the one being investigated on screen.
Now, I didn’t expect robust character development or nuanced, subtle relationships from this film — but I did expect a few good gags. I guess I need to adjust my expectations, as these unfortunately never materialize. The attempts are made, but I got through the first hour of the film without so much as a chuckle and finished without ever having anything close to a real laugh — all of which raises the question: Who is this film for if not me? I could tolerate the film’s casual homophobia, callous treatment of drug and sex addiction, and tendency to treat psychotherapy as a disease rather than a treatment — if only it were funny in the process. It’s just not.
In tone, Shepard attempts to craft something like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street reboot by way of Michael Bay’s Bad Boys, but he falls short of even those meager aspirations. What we have instead is a film that feels too loosely composed to carry any narrative momentum, with tepid pacing that results from excessive improvisation and a lack of emotional grounding that only a half-finished script can produce. It seems that Shepard might have made a film specifically engineered to appeal to his character from Idiocracy — which will leave most moviegoers out of luck when it comes to enjoying CHIPs.
Rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.
Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.