‘CHIPS’ is buddy-cop comedy gone stale

Warner Bros./Courtesy
"CHIPS" | Warner Bros.
Grade: D-

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“Chip happens” may be the laziest attempt at a movie tagline we have seen in recent times. But along with its achingly annoying and worn out humor, writer/director/lead Dax Shepard’s “CHIPS” wears that laziness with pride.

A loose adaptation of the 1970s TV show of the same name, “CHIPS” follows Officer Jonathan Baker (Shepard), an ex-professional motorcyclist who aims to save his failing marriage by becoming a cop, and Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña), a seasoned FBI agent working undercover, as newly appointed partners in the California Highway Patrol. Together, the two men work to investigate and take down a massive anarchist heist mysteriously rooted somewhere in the CHP.

The original “CHiPs” series was family-friendly fare about the everyday lives of two officers patrolling the Los Angeles freeway system. But besides the general premise and character names, the remake has little in common with it. Instead, the new “CHIPS” is an R-rated action-comedy, which is no surprise given Dax Shepard’s history with the genre (he also wrote and co-directed 2012’s “Hit and Run”). Unfortunately, although we can admire his efforts in the film’s smooth action sequences and occasional funny moments, we also have him to blame for its many flaws.  

Rather than being driven by a strong plot, the film rests entirely on the chemistry between its leading pair. Shepard plays a perpetually clueless, run-of-the-mill rookie cop, a suitable foil to Peña’s arrogant, playboy police officer. Thus, Jon and Ponch become the newest additions in a long string of “opposites-attract” buddy-cop duos, which, as of late, have had considerable success (“21/22 Jump Street”) in the comedy genre. But while their work is admirable, Shepard and Peña can’t match the chemistry, charisma or comic talents of predecessors such as Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.

The rest of the cast definitely had potential — Vincent D’Onofrio as a CHP veteran, Kristen Bell as Jon’s cheating spouse and Maya Rudolph as the interviewing sergeant, among others — but they’re all let down by underwritten roles and borderline-offensive dialogue. Even with a distinguished cast and additional cameos spotted throughout, “CHIPS” has no particularly noteworthy performances.

To say that the film’s humor is flawed is an understatement. “CHIPS” can’t save itself from its lousy attempts at vulgar jokes, ultimately undermining any inspired moment it comes close to achieving. In the film’s most publicized scene, an injured, naked Jon lies on the floor, and, unable to get to the bathroom, calls Ponch to help him. After Ponch arrives and reluctantly starts carrying his partner, he trips on a sheet and faceplants onto Jon’s crotch. Sure, it’s the scene that will get the most laughs, and frankly, it’s the movie’s most memorable. But it’s this frustratingly juvenile tone and repeated employment of a low-brow, penis-joke brand of comedy that make “CHIPS” such a formulaic, exhausting experience.

And then there’s the film’s treatment of women. Throughout “CHIPS,” as if constant casual sexism wasn’t enough, we’re force-fed gratuitous shots of women’s bodies, cringe-worthy dialogue from female officers and degrading comments made by the character of Ponch, masked as a product of his sex addiction. This is a movie made through and for the male gaze, and its women garner no sympathy. Even though Kristen Bell is sincere as Jon’s estranged trophy wife, “CHIPS” reduces her to a self-centered brat; she is objectified, insulted and always the butt of the joke — which is perplexing because Bell is married to Shepard in real life. Even she can’t evade the inexcusably sexist “comedy” of “CHIPS.”

“CHIPS” never embraces its outrageousness enough to be funny, and it’s definitely never subtle enough to be smart. Instead, it treads an uncomfortable middle line that resorts to constant sexism and cheap humor to distract from its blatant lack of originality. When Dax Shepard inevitably rolls out a new action-comedy, it will hopefully be far more inspired than “CHIPS.”

“CHIPS” opens today at UA Berkeley 7.

Contact Anagha Komaragiri at [email protected].