‘CHiPs’ Diverges from the Source Material, but Still Entertains

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**The following is an in-depth review of “CHiPs” and does contain spoilers**

Hollywood has had a real trend in rehashing old television series for major motion pictures in the past decade. The quality of these films is pretty hit or miss. Sometimes you get “SWAT” and sometimes you get “Bewitched.” Dax Shepard’s “CHiPs” sits somewhere in the middle.

 

CHIPS“CHiPs” is based on the 1977 television series of the same name – which starred Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada – about two California Highway Patrol motorcycle cops patrolling the freeways of Los Angeles. Where the original television series was a semi-serious crime drama with a sense of humor, the film version is very much a comedy in keeping with what audiences would expect from Dax Shepard.

“CHiPs” follows an FBI agent who is sent undercover inside the CHP to find a ring of five crooked cops. The agent, who is given the cover name Francis Llewelyn Poncharello, is teamed up with a screw-up rookie named Jon Baker and is caught trying to conduct his investigation while babysitting his new partner. Fans of the television series will notice an immediate diversion from the source material (if the trailers didn’t tip them off already).

In the original series, Ponch was the screw-up – although his heart was always in the right place – and Jon was the by-the-book role model. In fact, that is why Jon and Ponch were assigned as partners in the first place, explaining why these two cops always rode together which isn’t usual for motorcycle cops. In the film, the roles are reversed and Ponch comes off as the seasoned veteran.

While Ponch is sent to discover the five crooked cops, the audience is privy to who they are pretty much from the start. The villain is a CHP Lieutenant played by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio does fantastic with the material he’s given, but he is very much a mustache twirling villain with very little substance. After seeing D’Onofrio play a complex and compelling villain like “Daredevil“‘s Kingpin, the character he plays in “CHiPs” seems a waste of great talent.

Included in the film which was absent from the television series is Jon Baker’s ex-wife, played by Shepard’s real-life wife Kristen Bell. This character was completely pointless to the film’s plot and seemed to only have been included to give Bell something to do in her husband’s film. In addition to being completely unnecessary, the character is 100 percent unlikeable.

In spite of all of its flaws, “CHiPs” manages to be extremely funny, which – in all honesty – was the only thing it set out to be. It’s a very low brow film full of toilet humor and homo-erotic jokes, but it makes you laugh. A lot. While there is very little substance here, the movie is a non-stop laugh fest from start to finish. Unfortunately, the type of humor presented will only appeal to a niche market.

Had Warner Bros played the film a little more straight and truer to the source material, it most certainly would have appealed to a wider audience and probably could have been the beginning of a CHiPs film franchise. As it is, they tried to do a very specific thing with it, and it that endeavor they are mostly successful.

If you go into the film knowing that it isn’t the television series – and if you’re OK with low brow toilet humor – “CHiPs” is, at the very least, enjoyable. If you’re just mildly curious, however, it’s probably best to wait for Red Box or Netflix.

“CHiPs” currently holds a 21 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

For anyone in the Indianpolis area, I will be appearing at Indiana Comic Con this year April 14-16. I will be hosting panels on film criticism all weekend. The schedule can be found on my Facebook page here.

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