Review: Big-screen ‘CHIPS’ a tawdry, sexist disappointment

“CHiPs” was a wholesome TV show in the 1970s and ’80s about two California Highway Patrol officers. They were a couple of good-natured guys who embodied California cool with their motorcycles and mirrored sunglasses, solving problems, catching criminals and brightening days everywhere.

Reimagined by writer, director, producer and star Dax Shepard, the big-screen “CHIPS ” is a tawdry, testosterone-fueled tale built around penis jokes and endless evaluation of women’s appearances.

The two main characters discuss the looks of almost every woman on screen. Calling someone “a 2” might be a forgivable comic misstep, but making such remarks a major part of a movie’s humor is reductive and gross, not to mention outdated and uninspired. Maybe you need to look like Kristen Bell (Shepard’s wife, in real life and this film) or have a Y chromosome to find it funny.

News flash: Women don’t exist to be beautiful for men. Doesn’t everyone know that in 2017 — particularly Shepard, who has two young daughters?

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The best thing about “CHIPS” is some classic Southern California scenery and superb motorcycle riding, complete with stairwell tricks, airborne stunts and long shots of that beloved mecca for local bikers, Angeles Crest Highway.

But overall, the film is an uncomfortable eye-roll. Shepard and co-star Michael Pena have plenty of charm, but not enough to support the feeble story and tasteless jokes.

The film opens with the words “The California Highway Patrol does not endorse this film — at all,” and it’s easy to see why.

Shepard is Jon Baker, a former motocross champ trying to reinvent himself and save his marriage by joining the CHP. The 40-year-old rookie is paired with Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Pena), an FBI agent working undercover to root out potentially crooked officers within the CHP. But this Jon and Ponch are so inept, so distracted by hot chicks and pseudo-philosophical conversations about “homophobia” and “closure,” that buying them as actual law enforcement is too much of a stretch. They’re more like frat guys doing cosplay.

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And guy humor is one thing, but this is just dumb. One repeated gag involves Shepard in his underpants and Pena’s discomfort at being around his near-naked partner. “You face-planted my bag!” Jon says to Ponch.

That kind of low-brow stupidity could be redeemed by a strong story or well-developed characters, but “CHIPS” offers neither. Ponch and Jon are caricatures, and even the crime they’re investigating lacks punch because the crooked cops’ motivations are never explained.

And the objectification of women here is brutal. There are several close-ups of women’s butts in yoga pants, and Ponch openly lusts after them — so much that it’s a problem and he has to quickly steal away to masturbate. I’m not kidding. Even the CHP chief, played by Jane Kaczmarek, is reduced to an object: Ponch and Jon discuss her body (“It was tight”) after Ponch discovers she’s secretly sex-crazed. (Of course she is.)

Only Maya Rudolph, who makes a brief cameo to reunite with her “Idiocracy” co-star, escapes objectification. She is just a police officer who happens to be female. Josh Duhamel and the original Ponch, Erik Estrada, also make cameos, though unfortunately Estrada gets in on the lady lust.

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Made before the U.S. elected a president whose crude, caught-on-tape remarks regarding women inspired a nationwide conversation about “locker-room talk,” there’s no shortage of a “locker-room” tone toward women in “CHIPS.” That’s not just tired and unfunny, it’s potentially alienating to half the population.

The TV series was from a different era, to be sure, but affording basic respect regardless of someone’s looks or gender is timeless.

“CHIPS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use. Running time: 101 minutes. One star out of four.


MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.