CHIPS (2017): An Abysmal Failure
A movie that came out last weekend, CHIPS is the re-imagining of the late-70’s TV show starring Erik Estrada for a new age. The film was released to overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics all over the country. Begrudgingly, I finally dragged myself to the theater to see this 21 Jump Street rip-off. But was it as bad as critics made it out to be?
CHIPS is directed and written by Dax Shepard who also stars in the movie alongside Michael Pena and Vincent D’Onofrio. The film tells the story of Frank Poncherello (Pena) who is a Federal agent tasked with going undercover with the California Highway Patrol (i.e. CHIPS) in order to do some detective work on the aftermath of a gruesome heist excuted by a group of top-notch motorcyclists that resulted in a man taking his own life. As part of his cover, Ponch is paired up with fellow rookie Jon Baker (Shepard), a former professional motorbiker with a number of painful injuries to show for it. However, before the two can solve the case, they must learn to work together.
Once studios sniff out a possible trend in Hollywood, they all seem to fast-track a movie of their own into theaters in order to capitalize on the success of the trendsetter. As we all know, both 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street were big successes both critically and financially for Columbia Pictures. As a result, we’re now in for a bunch of television shows rebooted as R-rated, raunchy comedy films with CHIPS hitting theaters as well as Baywatch due out in theaters this summer.
This idea certainly played out well for 21 Jump Street as it blended elements of the original show with meta-humor and an overarching snarky attitude led by great chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. But does this template seem like a good fit for CHIPS?
It seems as if Warner Bros. gave Dax Shepard a ton of creative control on this project. Considering the last movie he directed was Hit & Run back in 2012, I was skeptical as to what the final product would be. For a movie like CHIPS to work, the team behind it needs to create a very intelligent film behind all the laughs. 21 Jump Street clearly had a solid directing team behind it, as Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have since signed on to direct the young Han Solo film due out in theaters next year.
Does Dax Shepard compare to these two? I don’t think so.
But hey, I’ve certainly been wrong before. CHIPS can’t be that bad, right?
What I Didn’t Like
Yeah…CHIPS is even worse than I thought.
As with any buddy cop movie, the success of the film largely depends on the chemistry between the two lead characters. I really like both Michael Pena and Dax Shepard, and they seem to be good buddies from the promotional material for the film, but their rapport is practically nonexistent in the film itself. The writing doesn’t help them much (more on that in a second) but the lines of dialogue that, in a vacuum, could be considered funny, fall really flat with awkward timing and word usage. Michael Pena feels like he’s sleepwalking through this film while waiting to be another funny side character in a big, tent-pole film while Shepard looks like he didn’t even read his own script beforehand.
A lot of the issues in CHIPS, however, come from the writing of the film. Dax Shepard has shown in the past that he’s talented (while also having an adorable relationship with his wife Kristen Bell), but his writing is clearly the main culprit behind CHIPS’ failure both with critics and the box office.
What I’m referring to here can easily be summed up by an example of supposedly “witty” banter between Shepard and Pena. In one of their arguments, Shepard refers to a house as a “domicile.” When was the last time you heard someone use the word, “domicile?” The 1940’s? This type of dialogue runs rampant through CHIPS, making the whole movie off-putting while Michael Pena does his best to try to improvise to avoid talking like my grandfather.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued
The “humor” employed by CHIPS is also aggressively raunchy, so if that isn’t your cup of tea than CHIPS is then most definitely not for you. As for me, I’d never be the one to shy away from a phallic joke in a movie. In fact, I get a lot of satisfaction out of toilet humor, but CHIPS goes about setting up these sex jokes the complete wrong way, making the film more cringe-worthy than funny.
Take 21 Jump Street for instance, since CHIPS is so desperately attempting to mimic its style. The vulgar jokes used in this film work extremely well due to two things: timing and joke structure. There’s no denying that these quips become funnier because Jonah Hill is a master raunchy comedic actor, but the numerous amount of explicit jokes is delivered with such clever dialogue alongside it that the skill of the actors and screenwriters shines through mightily.
As for CHIPS, the film is a lot of gross-out gags just for the sake of gross-out gags, lackingthe nuance that makes these jokes funny in other films.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued…Continued
You may be wondering, is the story all that compelling?
No, not really.
You’ve seen the story beats of CHIPS before in many other movies. Two quirky characters that don’t see eye to eye have to eventually put aside their differences in order to succeed on the job. That’s it. No spoilers are in this review, but you can easily fill in the cracks.
Not surprisingly, this film is pretty painful to sit through. I just HAD to check my phone during CHIPS to see how much longer the film was going to last. I expected the film to almost be over, then I realized I had another 30 minutes to watch. CHIPS clocks in at about an hour and 40 minutes but feels closer to three.
As a whole, CHIPS is a movie to avoid. I am using no hyperbole when I say that I did not laugh once during its run time. It gets an F. Your money is much better off being saved for another movie that is coming soon to theaters.
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