April 3, 2017

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

CHIPS is an ugly film: cheap, mean-spirited, joyless and pointless.


Travis Johnson
Year: 2017
Rating: MA15+
Director: Dax Shepard

Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rosa Salazar, Kristen Bell

Distributor: Roadshow
Released: April 6, 2017
Running Time: 101 minutes
Worth: $2.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

CHIPS is an ugly film: cheap, mean-spirited, joyless and pointless.

CHIPS, the old ’70s TV series that saw a couple of Californian motorcycle cops deal with the lightest of crimes in the sunniest state, gets raunched up and re-imagined for the 21st century big screen by writer, director, and star, Dax Shepard, who learns the hard way that this 21 Jump Street malarkey isn’t as easy as it looks.

Shepard is John Baker, a battle-scarred former stunt rider turned rookie California Highway Patrol officer, who teams up with Michael Pena’s Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, an undercover FBI agent sent into the CHP to root out some crooked cops who are pulling armed robberies on the side. The wackily mismatched partners get on each others nerves, but bond in the course of their debut adventure, with plenty of laughs and action along the way.

That last sentence doesn’t happen though.

Instead, we get a long series of risible gross-out jokes, some horrible ill-judged homophobia (Pena’s Ponch is so mortally terrified of male intimacy you half expect him to straight-up shoot the touchy-feely John and claim “gay panic”), and a lurching, tepid plot that somehow manages to be both utterly predictable and bafflingly convoluted at the same time – it’s the alchemical marriage of bad writing.

CHIPS fails to function at even the most basic level. Characters change traits and goals for no good reason, scenes run on past any logical cutting point, joke after joke falls flat, and what little action there is fails to make an impact. Seriously, you would think that the minimum requirement for a film literally centered on a stunt motorcyclist is a decent number of motorcycle stunts.

The incompetence on display is staggering. It would be interesting to get a look at the shooting script, if only to see how much of this rubbish is on the page and how much is the result of poor on set improvisation – the latter would at least account for the film’s flabby, unstructured feel. But it wouldn’t excuse the strong current of ugly misogyny that runs through the film.

Most of that is courtesy of Ponch, who spends his spare time ogling women in yoga pants and pursuing sex with women he clearly despises, but there’s a weird strain of it going on with Shepard’s John, too, who has joined the CHP, as he repeatedly tells anyone who will listen, to win back his wife. Said wife is portrayed as a stone cold bitch who has forced our boy to live in their guest house while she moves on with her life, and John’s arc is basically him realising that he’s pining away for a gold digger. The implications of her being played by Kristen Bell, Shepard’s real life wife, are best left uninvestigated.

CHIPS is an ugly film: cheap, mean-spirited, joyless and pointless. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a misanthropic comedy, but it needs to have some kind of reason for being, some hint of an operating principal. At the bare minimum, it needs to be funny. As it stands, CHIPS is bereft of both meaning and comedy. It’s a nasty exercise in meanness for its own sake, that seems to despise its characters and its own existence, and invites the viewer to do the same. Better to simply ignore it instead.


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