This big screen remake of ‘70s and ‘80s television series fails to kick into gear.

Michael Peña and Dax Shepard in CHIPS. Image via Roadshow.

In 2012’s Hit and Run, the combination of crime, cars and comedy paid off for writer/director/producer/actor Dax Shepard. A passion project that brought his clear enthusiasm for vehicular chaos to the screen, and corralled his loved ones and former film and television co-stars to help, it also provided amusing, adrenaline-centric viewing. Shepard must’ve been hoping that he could rev the same engines twice when he opted for a movie remake of ‘70s and ‘80s television series CHiPs as his next stint behind the camera. Alas, re-christened as CHIPS, his take on the California Highway Patrol fails to kick into gear.

It’s not that Shepard’s film, his first solo outing after sharing helming duties on Hit and Run and its predecessor Brother’s Justice, doesn’t deliver on its traffic cops hunt down lawbreakers concept, or that it doesn’t try to do so with roadway action and attempts to garner laughs. Spotting CHIPS’ aim is easy. In fact, it’s as easy as writing the threadbare script must’ve been. With little more to the story beyond the basic premise, all that’s offered to bulk up the running time is messily shot chases and lazy gags primarily concerned with leering at or making fun of women, homophobia and sex.

Spouting thin lines as well as writing and directing them, Shepard (last seen in The Boss) plays former motorcross champion Jon Baker, California Highway Patrol’s oldest-ever rookie with enthusiasm to burn but struggling with natural aptitude. In standard opposites attract, buddy cop-style, he’s paired up with Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello (Michael Peña, Collateral Beauty), a force newcomer who’s actually an undercover FBI agent trying to hunt down corruption within the CHIPS squad.

One pines for the shallow wife (Shepard’s real-life spouse Bell, Bad Moms) that’s no longer interested, the other has a yoga pants fetish, and together both start circling around brutish lieutenant Vic Brown (Vincent D'Onofrio, Rings). That’s about all CHIPS serves up in terms of characterisation and drama, with an ongoing joke about shooting Ponch’s FBI partner (Adam Brody, Yoga Hosers), frequent references to Baker’s bike-caused injuries, and the aforementioned approach to both women and male relationships, all imparting little of extra substance. Unsurprisingly, the one aspect of the movie with a glimmer of promise – the rapport between Shepard, dialling up his goofy affability, and Peña, careening between tense and off-kilter –can’t compensate for the threadbare material and lowbrow tone.

Neither can a seeming need to rush through the high-octane sequences, with speed and spectacle ostensibly of greater importance to Shepard, cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (Ride Along 2) and editor Dan Lebental (Ant-Man) than coherence. Similarly, a cast that includes Maya Rudolph (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), Rosa Salazar (Man Seeking Woman), Ryan Hansen (Bad Santa 2) and Jessica McNamee (Sirens) as fellow cops doesn’t quite run on empty, but aren’t given much in the way of comic fuel. Add its many missteps together, and CHIPS is left stalling in an increasingly crowded realm of both television-to-film adaptations, and vehicle-focused entertainment. Something approaching 21 Jump Street meets Fast and Furious might’ve been the movie’s ideal final destination, but it doesn’t ever drive in the same lanes as either.


Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5


Director: Dax Shepard

US, 2017, 100 mins

Release date: April 6

Distributor: Roadshow

Rated: MA

Sarah Ward

Thursday 6 April, 2017

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay