Beyond the character names and the motorcycles, fans of the original “CHIPS” television show won’t find much recognizable about this new action-comedy remake.
Based on the sunny series about California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers Jon Baker and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello that ran from 1977-83, “CHIPS” is set in the present day and more violent than its source, high on vehicular stunts and buddy comedy tropes.
Writer, director and star Dax Shepard takes on the Baker role; here, he’s a former professional motorbiker convinced that joining the police force will rekindle his relationship with his wife (played by his real spouse Kristen Bell). He’s teamed with Michael Peña’s Ponch, a federal agent gone undercover to investigate a deadly heist that might involve some crooked cops.
“CHIPS” offers a classic odd-couple setup, with the downtrodden Baker teamed with the cocky Ponch. Shepard and Peña are inherently likable, and couldn’t possibly make for anything less than a fun tandem. Peña especially, is one of those actors who elevates every movie. Here, he’s tough, yet vulnerable, with great comic timing.
Shepard, who last directed “Hit and Run” in 2012, is carving out a filmmaking niche, trying to fill the same space that director Hal Needham once inhabited: fun, rollicking action comedies in the vein of “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Cannonball Run.”
His characters offer some surprises and deviation from the formula, with Baker’s extreme introspection giving a respite from some of the more off-color jokes.
But this film is really about the stunt work, and it doesn’t disappoint. Speed freaks will lap up the car chases and the motorcycle work is pretty exhilarating. You’ll see motorcycles going up hills, storming down beaches and taking the stairs. There’s always a cool new vehicle racing around, plowing through set dressings. Shepard, who did many of his own stunts, knows how to make these displays sing on screen.
“CHIPS” isn’t a film that will change anyone’s life or do much beyond entertain, but it offers a fun, if altogether unsubstantial, jaunt through the freeways of California.