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Film Review: CHIPS, from ‘Built For Speed’

Mining Gen X nostalgia for those plentiful middle-aged cinemagoer bucks has become increasingly common but now filmmakers are getting desperate with the uncalled-for cinema re-imagining of late 70’s motorcycle cop show CHIPS. The original CHIPS was stock-standard TV cop fare notable only for the amusingly showy performance and gleaming white teeth of star Erik Estrada. There was nothing particularly memorable or iconic about the crimes depicted or its LA setting.

Possibly because of the original show’s mediocrity, writer, director and star Dax Shepard has avoided the heavily referential parodic style of Todd Phillip’s Starsky and Hutch and opted for a non-descript buddy cop action/comedy with Michael Pena in Erik Estrada’s role of Officer Poncharello and Shepard as his partner John Baker.   The result is a lame and much less funny version of the Will Ferrel/ Mark Wahlburg cop comedy The Other Guys with Pena’s Poncharello as the smart cop and Shepard’s Baker as the bumbling idiot.

Here Pena plays a loose cannon FBI agent who goes undercover in the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to uncover a crime ring of corrupt officers who have been knocking off armoured cars. To ensure he’s not paired with one of the bent cops his partner is new recruit, former moto-cross sensation now pill-popping numbskull, John Baker. Their investigation sees them occasionally pitted against a hulking and sadistic police Lieutenant (Vincent D’Onofrio) but mostly against each other.

Apart from a few well-staged motorbike chase sequences this film is oddly lifeless and devoid of excitement. The film’s listlessness is due not only to Dax Shepard’s writing and direction but also his performance as Baker. He’s meant to be a dopey slacker but that’s no excuse for his near comatose effort here. Michael Pena is a much better actor and he adds some credibility and weight to the film while and makes Ponch at least resemble a real cop.

Littered with stillborn gags, the film barely functions as comedy and repeated jokes about Baker’s bone-crunching motorbike injuries and Ponch’s chronic masturbation were met in the cinema with a solemn silence normally reserved for a funeral.   Also, as a comic pairing Dax and Pena don’t gel and the amusing antagonism we saw between Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlburg in The Other Guys is completely missing. One of the few saving graces is Isiah Whitlock Jr’s occasionally amusing turn as the stereotypical angry police sergeant.

Shepard seems confused about how he wants to package this film as its tone is appallingly inconsistent. The film stumbles aimlessly from violent crime drama to quirky buddy film to low brow raunch comedy. It also contains subplots – including one about Baker’s wife (Kristen Bell, Shepard’s real life wife) having an affair right in front of him – that go nowhere. Throw in some gruesome dismemberment gags and retrograde sexist humour and it’s a pretty cringe-worthy experience.

Apart from its more distasteful gags, though, CHIPs is not detestable a film it’s just confused and dull.

Nick’s rating: **

Genre: Action/ comedy

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Dax Sheppard.

Release date: 6th Apr 2017.

Running time: 100 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

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