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CHiPs Review

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An FBI agent (Michael Peña) goes undercover in the California Highway Patrol and is paired with an enthusiastic rookie (Dax Shepard), hampering his search for the corrupt cops who have carried out a series of armed robberies.

★★★★★

There’s one encouraging take-away from this big-screen adaptation of the old motorcycle cop show, and that’s the knowledge that Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s marriage is secure and happy, because no unhappy couple would play a couple as dysfunctional as they do here. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets for Shepard’s attempt at a comedy update of the early ’80s Eric Estrada TV show.

Director Dax Shepard forgot to make it either funny or compelling.

Fans of the show remember it largely for bouffant hair dos, tight pants and leather boots, which is about all that set it apart from any number of other cop shows at the time. Wisely, Shepard decided to keep the look and highlight the silliness of the setting in his update; unwisely, he forgot to make it either funny or compelling.

Shepard plays Jon Baker, a former X Games stunt biker who, after a series of horrendous crashes, has retrained as a California Highway Patrolman in an attempt to rekindle his marriage to Bell’s monstrous groupie. He’s paired with maverick FBI agent Castillo (Peña), undercover as Francis ‘Ponch’ Poncherello and attempting to track down rogue patrolmen moonlighting as armed robbers.

Of course, the audience is almost immediately informed that Lt Vic Brown (Vincent d’Onofrio) heads the gang, so there’s no mystery in the gang’s identity, and the plot stutters forward incoherently without tension. Instead, endless dreary riffing between Peña and Shepard is meant to entertain us, but it never pays off in the slightest connection to the story. Peña’s Castillo has a weakness for women in yoga pants and… that’s it. It doesn’t distract him at a critical moment or blind him to an important witness, only justifies a series of butt shots. Perhaps for Shepard that’s enough. In fact, Peña’s characterisation is stunningly incoherent, with the film unable to even decide on his type of romantic partner from one scene to the next.

It’s just a waste. The premise is ripe for absurdity and the talented supporting cast have interesting quirks that might have livened things up if Shepard ever gave them the chance. Instead, aside from a few surprisingly gory moments, this makes the original show look good.

Brainless action comedies are one of the great pleasures in cinema, but only when they’re crafted with more care and intelligence than this.

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