CHiPS is an extraordinarily annoying film. Annoying, because it's 85 per cent predictable, homophobic rubbish, but also 15 per cent genuinely funny. The quality of those few jokes that do land hence raises the question: was the writer, director and star Dax Shepard just lucky on those rare occasions? Or was he simply lazy on all others?
Given the movie is merely the latest in a long line of old TV show reboots, laziness seems the more likely contender. This hypothesis gains further credibility when you consider the comedic chops of Shepard's cast, which includes Michael Peña, Kristen Bell and Maya Rudolph, among others. Hell, Shepard himself is no mug when it comes to making us laugh; how he, or anyone else, could possibly think this script was strong enough to move into production may forever remain a mystery.
The plot of CHiPS is at once hideously convoluted and entirely predictable. Peña plays Frank "Ponch" Poncherello, an FBI agent going undercover into the California Highway Patrol in order to expose a gang of corrupt officers suspected of carrying out a series of armoured car robberies. He's partnered up with probationary officer Jon Baker (Shepard), a former X-Games motorcyclist whose body is now in a state of such ruin it's comparable to that of Lloyd Bridges' Admiral Benson in Hot Shots.
Addicted to pain killers and determined to win back his adulterous trophy-wife Karen (played by Shepard's actual wife Kristen Bell), Baker is an Owen Wilson-esque modern age man forever discussing the closure of issues and expressing concern for Peña's presumed homophobia. Together, Ponch and Baker cycle around California, occasionally doing police work, but mostly just swearing, masturbating and blowing things up until the movie just sort of ends.
The funny bits are funny – a moment involving a hit and run with paparazzi, for example, elicited actual applause from our audience. But successful gags are so few and far between that it makes the exercise of discovering them feel like too much for too little. Vincent D'Onofrio does a solid job imbuing his gang leader character with at least some degree of complexity when all other characters around him are merely caricatures. But it's not nearly enough to save this otherwise decidedly dull and frequently downright cringeworthy affair.