Big screen spoof of the '70s TV hit.
Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: Dax Shepard
Starring: Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Jessica McNamee, Adam Brody, Kristin Bell, Vincent D'onofrio, Maya Rudolph
When adapting popular TV shows of the '70s and '80s for the big screen, it's become customary to spoof the original material rather than simply give it a straight adaptation. Admittedly, it's a formula that's produced some amusing results. The best of the bunch is 1995's The Brady Bunch Movie, which smartly mocked both '70s conservatism and '90s cynicism. 2004's Starsky and Hutch and 2012's 21 Jump Street weren't quite so sophisticated, but provided their share of laughs regardless. Later this year we'll see a reimagining of '90s Saturday tea-time sensation Baywatch, but for now the latest piece of prime-time nostalgia rebooted for generation snark is CHiPs, which entertained many a kid in the late '70s and early '80s.
In this version - written, directed and starring Dax Shepard - the ethnicities of California Highway Patrolmen Jon Baker (Shepard) and Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello (Michael Pena) remain intact, but the roles have been reversed. Here, Baker is the hothead, a former stunt-bike rider who joins the force believing it will win back his ex-wife (Shepard's real-life spouse Kristen Bell) by reminding her of her cop father. Ponch, an undercover FBI agent, is the more by the book of the pair; though he's not actually Ponch - that's the much mocked name he takes as his cover.
The plot, such as it is, involves the pair teaming up to take down a bunch of Magnum Force inspired crooked cops responsible for a series of security van heists. Of course, this being a buddy cop narrative, the two begin by bickering, only to form a bond on the job.
With the outrageous success of the Fast & Furious franchise, a less comedic, more action heavy adaptation of CHiPs would seem a no-brainer. The original show never took itself seriously to begin with, so spoofing it seems a little redundant. Aside from the obligatory cameos by original cast member Erik Estrada, few bones are thrown in the direction of the series' fans, and practically none of the humour is directed at the silliness of the concept.
Instead, the 'laughs' are aimed at the lowest common denominator, and unnecessarily cruel. It's telling that a movie based on a 40 year-old TV show is far more problematic than its source, which broke ground by gaving a lead role to a latino actor at a time when non-white faces were few and far between on prime time TV. The women in this film are here solely to display their boobs and butts if they fit Shepard's judgmental physical ideal, or be roundly mocked if they don't. Women throw themselves at our two leads, despite their lack of charm, sending pictures of their breasts and stripping on Facetime at the drop of a hat. This film is so misogynistic it makes a secret Trump recording play like a Gloria Steinem audiobook.
Jon and Ponch are thoroughly obnoxious here, passing judgement on others' kinks, body-shaming women and indulging in playground gay panic schtick (original star Estrada has appeared in films produced by the notoriously homophobic Liberty Counsel, so maybe this was part of the inducement for his cameo?).
As vanity projects go, CHiPs is one of the most egregious, with Shepard taking every opportunity to show off the toned physiques of himself and his wife while mocking anyone who doesn't meet their Aryan super-standard. I take some consolation in knowing that some day Shepard and Bell will grow as old and 'unattractive' as the objects of their childish derision here. The only character who displays any redeeming quailties is ironically the villain, a crooked police lieutenant (Vincent D'Onofrio) determined to help his heroin addicted son.
Part of the writers' bible for the original show stated that Jon and Ponch should never draw their guns, let alone discharge them, but here the death toll rivals a Rambo movie. Civilians die by the dozen, run over by our 'heroes' bikes or killed as a result of their negligence. This could be read as a commentary on the current state of the US police, but the film is far too tone deaf to give it such credit. It's a movie with nothing to say other than disabilities are funny, older women's bodies are gross and Ducatis are awesome. CHiPs is an insult to fans of the original show, but more so to anyone with an ounce of humanity. If there's any justice, Shepard will receive a parking ticket from the men and women of the California Highway Patrol.
CHiPs is in UK/ROI cinemas March 24th.