Director: Dax Shepard
Producers: Ravi D. Mehta, Dax Shepard, Andrew Panay, Rick Rosner
Written by: Dax Shepard
Based on: CHiPs TV series created by Rick Rosner
Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Adam Brody, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jessica McNamee, Kristen Bell, with Jane Kaczmarek, Maya Rudolph, Ed Begley Jr, and Josh Duhamel
The original television series of CHiPs (1977-1983), was an action ‘dramedy’ dealing with the daily crime fighting of the California Highway Patrol officers on their motor cycles. Two of its main characters were played by Erik Estrada (macho, trouble-pronue probationary Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello), and Larry Wilcox (strait-laced field training Officer Jonathan “Jon” Andrew Baker).
My memories of this TV show are vague as I only ever saw a few episodes, so I had little idea of how this updated cinema version would compare to its predecessor.
I will happily admit that I found the film to be a guilty pleasure. It was rude, profanity-laden, sexist and with an over-reliance on visual gags and nudity, and it will never win any awards for subtlety. But it was also quite funny and engaging, and in some strange way had its heart in the right place, especially with the depiction of the relationship between its lead characters.
In a reversal of the original TV premise, Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) is now the probationer. A beaten-up former pro motor biker, he is trying to put his life and marriage (to Kristen Bell’s character) back together. Baker is touchingly loyal to his ex-wife and desperately keen to make something of himself. His honesty and odd personality quirks, as well as a running gag based on his unusual reaction to household smells, makes him very appealing. He reminded me of Zach Braff’s character in the TV comedy Scrubs, with both actors sharing a goofy, endearingly naïve charm.
Castillo (Michael Peña) is now a cocky undercover Federal agent masquerading as Officer Francis “Frank” Llewellyn “Ponch” Poncherello, assigned to investigate a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job, inside the California Highway Patrol. Ponch is a bit sleazy yet still has some of the boyish charm on show in his earlier comic roles in Ant Man and The Martian.
It doesn’t give the plot away, such as it is, to know that Ponch doesn’t always obey the rules, and has little patience with his naïve rookie partner as he tries to uncover the criminal element within the CHiPs organisation. The plot of this film is not particularly strong or original, and the audience is kept entertained enjoying the visual and verbal humour on display between the two leads.
There were many opportunities to showcase a range of stunts, and by enlisting renowned stunt performer Steve De Castro, plus pros and the best stunt riders for the trickiest and most spectacular manoeuvres, director Shepard ensured these aspects of the film were executed effectively. When Shepard’s character speeds along Californian highways and we get his point of view, the scenes are breathtaking, visceral and convincing, almost making me wish I could ride at all.
Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible 3 and Transformers 1 and 2) made every action sequence zing, while Los Angeles was impressively utilised in the location scenes.
There were some humorous cameos from comic actors including Jane Kaczmarek and Maya Rudolph as senior police officers, and a brief stint from Josh Duhamel, but the movie belongs to Ponch and Jon and their budding bro-mance.
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