As a childhood fan of Officer Jon Baker and Francis Llewellyn “Ponch” Poncherello, I had hopes (not necessarily high ones) that Dax Shepard, tasked with writing, directing and starring as the new big-screen Jon, grew up a fan as well. It seems the former “Parenthood” star joined the project more as a gearhead than a “CHiPs” fan.
CHIPS uses Ponch (Michael Peña), now an FBI agent who’s undercover in the California Highway Patrol to find a crooked cop turned bank robber, and Jon, a washed-up bike riding champion, for little more than laughs. Estrada’s heartthrob has become a sex addict with a thing for yoga pants, and Jon is a sad schlub popping pills and trying to hold on to his prettier-on-the-outside wife (Shepard’s real-life spouse, Kristen Bell).
“CHiPs” may not have been award-winning television, but the odd-couple pairing of Ponch and Jon has potential. Shepard proved in his directorial debut, the funny, fast-paced Hit and Run, that he could handle the curves of action and comedy, but his sensibilities stray overly sophomoric and scatological. Their marksmanship is as poor as Jon’s; more jokes miss than hit, and the few hits are more funny flesh wounds than deadly hilarious.
An overreliance on violent slapstick gags clashes with the needless plot devices. The character’s back stories contribute less than just pairing up Ponch and Jon on patrols that lead them to the trail of these armored car bandits. Vincent D’Onofrio does give great crazy, but when does he not? Shepard should have used CHIPS as an excuse to make a cool throwback bike movie (the motorcycle chases zip) rather than another silly reboot of a lightweight “classic” of ’70s/’80s TV.
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