CHiPS (2017)

(On Cable TV, November 2017) Why does it seem so hard for Hollywood to make an R-rated action comedy these days? I may be selectively misremembering things, but it seems to me that every halfway promising action comedy screws things up by throwing far too much crassness, gore and unfunny material into the mix, until even the good bits are drowned out by the bad ones. The case in point here is CHiPS, another unsuccessful attempt to bring an old TV show to the big screen. To be fair, there are a few things to like in the result. Michael Peña is fantastic in a super-organized horndog role, stealing scenes as he reliably does. Co-star Dax Shepard (who also co-wrote and directed) is far less successful, playing an abrasive screw-up that annoys more than he amuses. While the plot (revolving around uncovering crooked cops) has some heft to it, it often becomes far too violent (witness: graphic suicide-by-throwing-oneself-out-of-a-helicopter, graphic decapitation, graphic amputation of a lead character’s limbs) to remain fun as a comedy. While some mature content is fine, CHiPS often overplays its hand into something repellent in what isn’t supposed to be a gross-out comedy. Fortunately, the stunts and action scenes are generally solid despite being hyperactive—knowing Shepard’s fondness for cars (as seen in Hit and Run), it’s easy to understand why he’d take on CHiPS as an almost-passion project. There are a few known faces (David Koechner, Maya Rudolph and, of course, Kristen Bell as Shepard’s wife) in minor roles. The sunny Los Angeles setting is used effectively, and doesn’t revisit overly familiar places. Alas, the script does feel lazy, especially once it takes up running gags that aren’t funny the first time and then proceed to grow increasingly exasperating through repetition. The result is not particularly good, although it does have some better moments thanks to Peña and the action scenes. Still, especially as compared to not-so-distant examples of the form such as 21 Jump Street, it’s disappointing.

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