For a dumb, R-rated comedy peppered with jokes about male genitalia, CHIPS, the remake of the ‘70s cop show, isn’t terrible.
However, for those expecting a passing resemblance to the television series about the California Highway Patrol, think again. The stars of the original show, Larry Wilcox (Jon Baker) and Erik Estrada (Ponch), have tweeted their displeasure with the new movie for its gun violence. But like other remakes of older cop franchises – Starsky and Hutch, 21/22 Jump Street and Charlie’s Angels among them – CHIPS tries to be its own entity, using bro humour, spectacular car chases, and the buddy-cop genre as a vehicle (get it?) for its two leading talents: Michael Pena as Ponch and Dax Shepard as Jon (the latter also directed the film).
The film succeeds in playing off the duo’s differences. Jon was once a motorbike-daredevil who’s trying to win back his wife (Kristen Bell, Shepard’s real-life partner) by joining the police force. He’s warm, daft, incredibly incompetent at the job, but preternaturally talented at chasing suspects down on a motorbike. Ponch, on the other hand, has his life together. He’s an FBI agent posing undercover as a patrol cop transferred from another office. His cool-headedness and guardedness makes him the straight guy to Jon’s unflinching forthright personality. The latter’s tendency to overshare and invasive attempts at armchair therapy irk the hell out of Ponch, who’s just trying to solve a case.
That case involves several dirty cops who have rigged a perfect highway robbery involving an armoured vehicle that they can pull off over and over again thanks to super-fast motorbikes. The ringleader of the crime is Ray Kurtz (a deliciously evil Vincent D’Onofrio), a dirty LAPD officer who relies on the motorcycling prowess of his drugged-up son, Reed Jr (Justin Chatwin) and several patrol cops to pull off the scheme time and time again.
As Ponch and Jon chase down one bad guy after another, we are exposed to a slew of exciting car and motorbike chases, bro-bonding, and a lot of sex jokes. A lot. There’s a reason this film is rated R, after all.
If you look at mass entertainment as a means of understanding contemporary culture, CHIPS is an interesting case study, as it challenges the anxiety of hyper-masculinity. Through its raunchy sex humour, the film simultaneously suggests that laidback athletes like Jon are so comfortable hanging out with friends in nothing but underwear, and that men, especially those in guarded professions like law enforcement, can also be overtly anxious to prove their masculinity by being grossed out by their peers’ body parts. This comes to a head when Ponch trips in the process of escorting an injured Jon to a bathtub and accidentally smashes his head into his partner’s junk.
CHIPS may still be 90 per cent dick jokes, but at least it’s trying to do something with those dick jokes.