“CHIPS” a Bland Reboot
Each big screen adaptation of a television show gives credence to the notion that Hollywood is out of ideas. And while some do wind up being worthwhile (the post-modern 21 Jump Street, the Oscar-nominated The Fugitive), more times than not, these reboots fall flat (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle or Bewitched anyone?), bland retreads that rely on simply replicating the program in question, lacking any sort of inspiration to create anything unique.
Dax Shepard’s CHIPS falls somewhere in between, an adaptation that adheres to the formula that made the late 1970’s cop show a hit, showing only occasional signs of ingenuity along the way. While there are some effective laughs when the intent is to lampoon the ridiculous level of machismo the characters exhibit, these moments are not frequent enough to generate a relentless comic momentum that’s vital to make satires of this sort work.
The Orson Welles of our time, Shepard not only writes, directs and produces this feature, but stars as well as Jon Baker, former professional motocross rider who decides to become a member of the California Highway Patrol in an effort to win back his wife (Kristin Bell), thinking she’ll be impressed with his new calling. He’s not that good of a shot and he adheres a bit too closely to the rule book but the way he handles a bike gets him a spot on the force and partnered with Frank Poncherello (Michael Pena) a renegade cop who’s actually an undercover FBI agent that’s been assigned to root out corruption within the department.
The chemistry between the two leads is slow to develop, as Pena is required to play one note throughout the entire movie. His abrasive, arrogant character is hard to take, as there are simply no variations on this theme. He’s loud, self-righteous, inflexible and altogether unpleasant, constantly coming off as a bully, which doesn’t lend itself to big laughs. Shepard gives himself a much more sympathetic yet equally underwritten role. His Baker is a bit of a doofus, addled by the many injuries sustained during his racing career. One of the film’s better gags involves the incapacitating stiffness that occurs, due to his 22 past surgeries, when the rainy season hits. Shepard pulls off some effective physical comedy when this occurs, Pena’s efforts to assist him adding to the humor.
The film runs in fits and starts, never assuming a gleeful, sense of abandon that made 21 Jump Street and its sequel so effective. No, the jokes are too obvious and there’s no sense of daring as far as the jokes or characters are concerned. The nicest thing I can say about CHIPS is that it’s bland, which has to be the worse thing any filmmaker wants to hear.