CHiPs is a revival of a TV series from the late 70s and early 80s, and this action comedy follows the pill-popping, former motorbike rider and rookie cop Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), and hardened undercover FBI agent Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) as they try to bring down some dirty cops in their California Highway Patrol (CHP) office. The film forgoes high stakes in order to focus on the private lives of the two officers, particularly Jon who is trying to save his marriage with Karen (played by Kristen Bell).
The reboot is written and directed by Dax Shepard, and a lot of the comedy elements in the film stems from issues of fragile masculinity and sexual moments, with Ponch accusing Jon (who has attended couples counselling for the past year) of being “three beers too intimate”. The camera work in the film is especially good, with many interesting shots and dynamic camera work. The music is used effectively too, and a particular highlight is when Whitney Huston’s “I Will Always Love You” is playing as Jon takes a lounge across the road to save Ponch from an oncoming truck. Peña and Shephard play off each other effortlessly, and they’re a joy to watch together. However, it feels as if they enjoyed working together more than the audience enjoys watching them on screen together.
Unfortunately, the film fails at rendering the characters sympathetically and engaging the audience. The plot is too generic and the impressive stunts on the motorbikes hardly make up for it. With decapitations and cut off fingers, the violence seems excessive in such an easy-going movie. It is also unclear whether CHiPs is paying homage to the original TV series, is satirising the genre or genuinely being serious. There are also some sexist undertones and tropes of gay panic and internalised homophobia in the film (particularly from Michael Peña’s character), and seeing as it is Dax Shepard who wrote it, it is surprising and very disappointing. If you want to watch CHiPs, I recommend watching the trailer: it gives you a highlight reel of all the best moments anyway.