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Officers Frank “Ponch” Poncherello and Jon Baker were household names in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They were the lead characters in the television series CHiPs which showcased the work of the motorcycle police force of the California Highway Patrol. With the retro-resurgence of the 1970s and 1980s in cinema, it was not a surprise to hear that the feature film version of the CHP was in production. Unlike the faithful fanbase of television shows coming out of this era who watch the re-runs of the Dukes of Hazard and Charlie’s Angels on TV land, CHiPs does not benefit from the same cult following. Do people even remember the name Erik Estrada, much less Larry Wilcox? This predicament leaves writer and director Dax Shepard (Hit and Run) with an up-hill climb of building a new base of support for the Los Angeles-based motorcycle cops.
Shepard begins the story with the introduction of Frank Poncherello (Michael Peña) and Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) as they join the law enforcement team at the California Highway Patrol. Ponch is an undercover FBI agent who is trying to expose an internal band of dirty cops who are using their position to rob armored trucks in the city. He is partnered with Jon, who is the oldest rookie on the force. The former extreme sports cyclist champion is trying to find a new identity since leaving behind the fame of the sporting community. Also with his new position of authority, he is hoping to save his ill-fated marriage to Karen (played by his real-life spouse, Kristen Bell). This unlikely pair must work together to find the ring of crooked cops while working through their own personal issues with one another and at home. Even while they fight among each other and try to work on building trust in their partnership, they eventually come to the realization that their differences are what builds the bond or their work relationship and it helps them to find the solutions to their professional and personal problems.
For fans who are looking for similarities between the original series and Shepard’s outing, there is little to remind us of the series. Besides being set in Los Angeles and that the lead actors ride motorcycles, that is where the similarities cease. The actor turned writer/director decided to take the CHiPs team down the proverbial highway of gross-out humor and utilizes derogatory statements that will offend much of humanity. Even though there are a few laugh-out-loud moments, the majority of the film is pejorative and distasteful. Shepard does have a knack for humorous anecdotes and situations, but he pushes each situation and character across the line of good taste. It is difficult to find a scene that does not contain unnecessary nudity, bodily dismemberment or some form of degrading comedy. His and Pena’s comedic talents are wasted in dialogue that would even be considered offensive in the local fraternity house. Understanding that the market for this style of humor has pushed films like Bad Moms and The Boss to the top of the charts, it still does not excuse the poor writing and bad taste.
Even though the writing can be categorized as abhorrent, the real travesty is to waste the acting skills of Michael Pena and Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil) in roles that are below them. Unless they were merely looking for an easy pay check, this should be a reason for the seasoned actors to fire their current agents. D’Onofrio’s character as the leader of the corrupt team within the CHP is so predictable and cliched that it can be labeled as an insult to the intelligence of the audience.
Outside of the appealing chemistry between Shepard and Pena, there is very little to celebrate in CHiPs. Even if there is a remnant of fans from the original show, there is nothing on offer for the nostalgic or for those with any cinematic self-respect.