CHiPs [Review by Haus]
“Never meet your heroes,” they say, and to this I would add, “be careful with movies you liked as a kid.” Sure, some do age well (Ghostbusters, Robocop, Top Gun), but you’ll find others strangely peppered with stop-and-blink slurs (The Breakfast Club) or just plain hilariously bad today (Rambo: First Blood Part II, or Stallone’s Cobra come to mind). I say that to say this: There’s a reason why classic cop-dramas remade as movies tend so heavily toward comedy. (Think 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, Dragnet, Starsky and Hutch; Miami Vice and S.W.A.T. are about the only two I can think of that played it straight — I blame Colin Farrell.) It’s because redoing an old favorite how it actually was might not play too well today.
So I get why Dax Shepard (who wrote, directed, and stars in CHiPs) tried to turn this early-80s treasure into something R-rated and racy. I get why he cast Michael Pena as Ponch and himself as Jon. I even get why he aimed for a semi-self-aware, kinda-woke-but-also-raunchy angle.
What I don’t get is why what should have been the milk run of remakes fails so hard.
First and most troubling, CHiPs isn’t very funny. While paced as though it’s skipping from punchline to punchline, so many of these fall flat that it plays more like a weird, reverso drama. And for an R-rated comedy, a surprising majority of the would-be funny stuff is cognitively available to a middle schooler (though I’d wager his dick jokes are better).
Second, given the gold mine of potential source material (139 episodes from 1977 to 1983), CHiPs seemingly borrowed from none. It has barely any plot. Pena (so good in End of Watch) plays a federal agent who goes undercover as fictional CHP officer Ponch (fictional why?), while Shepard is a rookie on the force, a do-gooder washed-up X-Games motocross rider with a battered body and a failed marriage (to real-life sweetie Kristen Bell). Vincent d’Onofrio plays a crooked cop with about two-fifths of a backstory and a room-temperature IQ, though don’t get too hung up on that because his entire existence is basically a sort of human McGuffin to catalyze more pratfalls and bum-humor. There’s another curious story web involving several black cops who might have been in a gay love-triangle, but I’m not entirely clear on that and neither will you be. That woke joke is broke.
It’s quite a strange brand of vulgarity, kind of mean a lot of the time, with lots of booties in yoga pants and titties on Facetime and rating women a “two” and weird marriage angst. My main exposure to the real-life Dax Shepard has thus far been as smiling, aw-shucks, ain’t-he-perfect arm candy to Ms. Bell, but it seems that Dax may have some demons behind that lovable grin. And those demons are nine years old.
The CHP itself doesn’t come off particularly well, finding itself the butt (heh) of incessant jokes about “shit brown” uniforms and so on. (These are about as funny as you’d expect.) Even the CHP 11-99 Foundation doesn’t escape Shepard’s withering satire, though I’m not sure it’s actually satire if it’s neither funny nor ironic and doesn’t actually criticize the alleged target. What’s the CHP ten-code for attempted parody?
With the boldface caveat that this is an unfunny, story-impaired escapist couple of hours, I have to say I really didn’t hate it. Maybe it’s nostalgia — and I say this as someone who in my single-digit years adored the original series, and later actually bought a VHS copy of CHiPs ’99 — but there’s something about the iconic image of Ponch and Jon rolling down the 405 with sunglasses and short sleeves that just makes me happy. There are a bunch of moments like that here, moments where CHiPs brushes up against what it could have been — and not even a steady drumbeat of infantile cock-bump humor can drown them all out.
21 Jump Street this isn’t, which of course is a shame and a loss. CHiPs the series maybe deserved better, but then again, maybe not. Let’s not find out. It’s better as a memory.
Haus Verdict: Swing and a miss for Shepard with this curiously rude and generally unfunny remake, but somehow a fun ride nonetheless.
CHiPs opens Friday, March 24.
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