CHiPs is a passion project of sorts for writer-director-star Dax Shepard. It’s not that he holds the 1970s police procedural in high esteem, but he is a motorcycle fanatic. And he saw CHiPs as a thin candy coating to commit cool motorcycle action to the screen. So, he assembled a cast of talented actors, wrote a bunch of gay jokes, and took to the streets of Los Angeles. The result is a disaster.
CHiPs is all over the place with its tone. Scenes slam into one another with no regard for the events leading up to them. As a result, the film finds itself grasping at straws to connect the action and the comedy together. Even without the blending of genre, the comedy can’t decide to be bleak or sunny. Dax Shepard’s John Baker is an over-sharer interested in bringing out the best in people. Michael Pena’s Castillo is a loose cannon sex addict who would rather make homophobic remarks than answer Baker’s questions. However, rather than having the characters bounce off of each other, they feel distant and at odds with what kind of film CHiPs wants to be.
Speaking of the characters, both of them are unfathomably annoying. Many of the “comedic” situations stem from their stubbornness and inability to work together. The problem is, most of the time, neither one of them is correct. When a mid-film turn launches the picture into more of an action piece, the characters haven’t learned anything about themselves. Vincent D’Onofrio is a good villain and uses his imposing figure well, but his vicious Ray Kurtz is at odds with the comedic nature of the film.
Most of the film’s issues, however, can be traced by its horrific editing. The film plays like it has two third acts. The first chunk of the movie is usual expositional fare. But once the characters decide to start solving the central mystery in earnest, they solve it in minutes flat. From there, the movie simply kills time until the credits. Every narrative beat feels like Shepard shrugged and said “Gotta have something here to make it an hour and forty minutes” and didn’t bother revising the script.
When the CGI fire settles, CHiPs is painfully unfunny and not that compelling of an action film. It isn’t beholden to its source material, but doesn’t strive to rise above it, either. Dax Shepard knows his bikes, and takes every opportunity to show them off. There’s some decent chases, but he shoots the action too close to make it exciting. He’s stated that he wants to make a CHiPs trilogy. Box office receipts will reveal if there’s a sequel, but one can only hope he learns the basic building blocks of filmmaking first.
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