Rookie officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) is assigned to the California Highway Patrol (CHIPS). He gets paired with an undercover FBI agent (Michael Peña) who is trying to suss out some crooked cops in the department. As they get wrapped up in the chaos, they leave an unintended wake of destruction in their path. But hey, isn’t that what all the best movie cops do?
Not the Spoof You Might Be Looking For
When an R-rated version of CHIPS was announced, the immediate thought that most people had – myself included – was that it was going to ape the tongue-in-cheek style of something like 21 Jump Street. That was the direction that the movie was going to take until writer/director/lead actor Dax Shepard came on board. He abandoned the spoof approach and decided to make a movie that paid tribute to the ’70s/’80s era of vehicular action. Taking his biggest inspiration from Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run), Shepard turned CHIPS into something you might not expect…
A Damn Good Stunt Movie
It was a shock to see a big studio movie that felt like it came from a different era. These days, if you sit through the credits of a film, you’ll see a wall of names fill the screen when it comes to the visual effects department. That happens with CHIPS but it’s a wall of stunt actors instead. Shepard takes an immense amount of pride in presenting real action on screen and it works like gangbusters. There is some genuinely enthralling action in CHIPS that seems small scale when compared to the over-the-top nature of something like the Fast & Furious serious, but the practical work in CHIPS hits with much more effectiveness. I never thought I’d say this, but I really hope Dax Shepard gets to direct an action movie. He has a real talent for this genre.
But What About the Laughs?
However, most people are going to be judging CHIPS more on its comedic prowess than its action. And on that front? The movie isn’t bad but it’s not a gut-busting chucklefest. Dax Shepard and Michael Peña have good chemistry but the script doesn’t often allow them to click as often as they should. To be fair, both characters are well-written on their own: Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello is a hotshot loose cannon with a real problem when it comes to being crazy for the ladies, and Jon Baker is a stumblebum rookie who is secretly talented but too much of a dope to know it. They are fun characters but they never gel enough to make for a great comedy duo.
Still, there are some goofy bits of sophomoric humor that my editors would never let me recount here and those are good for some lowbrow laughs. Lowbrow humor can be done well and CHIPS mostly succeeds on that front. If the actual character humor was as solid, the laughs might be more frequent. As it stands, the comedy feels strangely supplemental to a strongly crafted action flick.
Is CHIPS Good?
That depends on what barometer you’re using. As a comedy, it’s serviceable but never able to stake out something that makes it memorable. As an action film, it’s a delightful throwback to a bygone era that holds its own in admirable fashion. Since I’m a fan of ’70s/’80s action, CHIPS gave me a lot to love. That probably won’t be enough to satisfy most viewers, but I found it refreshing in an age where studio action films have become more and more cartoonish. If you want to see how they used to make these kinds of movies, CHIPS is a perfect entry point.