This is the Hell 21 JUMP STREET hath wrought.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made rebooting cheesy TV series look far too easy to those in the film industry who think, “I can do that too!” But, no. No, you can’t. Writer-Director Dax Shepard’s CHIPS lifts that formula without adding any further insight or commentary to the buddy-cop genre it’s satirizing. The film aims to diffuse Maxim-style mirth and machismo, but winds up wearing its sexism, misogyny and homophobia proudly, like badges on a uniform. We don’t need those stinkin’ badges. This is #NoHomo: THE MOVIE.
The best and really only good thing I can say about this big screen reboot is that the plot and action sequences do feel reminiscent of the late Seventies/ early Eighties TV series. It’s just that all the unfunny patter and padding in between is atrocious. In Shepard’s iteration, a seasoned undercover FBI agent working under the name Francis Llwellyn Poncherello (Michael Peña) and rookie officer Jon Baker (Shepard) are forced to work together as California Highway Patrol officers. Ponch is a hardened, rambunctious professional with loose ethics and a love of sexting, on-the-job masturbating and ogling women in yoga pants. Jon is an ex-pro motorbiker/ pill-popping screw-up who’s frequently emasculated for being too open emotionally and physically. His blonde, buxom wife Karen (Kristen Bell) has also made him a cuckold – yet he still seeks to repair their marriage (as he states a billion times). After their requisite bickering becomes brotherly bonding, the pair team up to take down a group of corrupt cops led by Lt. Ray Kurtz (Vincent D’Onofrio).
As I mentioned before, perhaps the biggest let down is everything between the plot beats and big action set pieces. With every passing segment, each character becomes worse for wear – not better. Character arcs are shrugged away – not everyone has closure or motivations. They try to humanize the villain’s motives to give him drive, fleshing him out more, but it doesn’t work. Who cares about his reasons?! Gross out gore (like a decapitation and de-fingering) is shown exclusively because it can be done in a rated-R action film. The comedy’s more raunchy elements are completely unnecessary, becoming a barrage of anal and dick jokes. With the exception of bits about privileged LA douchebags and the paparazzi, Shepard stays away from any other sly, subversive regional humor. There’s no cleverness to the jokes or set-ups – and virtually no laughter that follows the punchlines.
Ponch is infused with conservative, maybe even cultural, queer panic. He’s disgusted seeing guys in their underpants hug in a locker-room. He goes on a defensive tirade about how he isn’t homophobic because the person he’s freaking out about isn’t actually gay so how can he be homophobic? Oh honey. He refuses to carry his naked partner to the tub. His comeuppance is that he gets a face full of Jon’s junk when he finally relents. That’s how they solve homophobia here. Shepard’s script toys with poking fun at the dual meaning of “partners,” in both a business and intimate sense, but it comes out all wrong and insensitive. Though they blessedly don’t utilize him much, there’s a character names Irish Gay Terry (Jess Rowland), who exists to have a laugh at his name.
Not only is the film’s rampant homophobia troubling, but what’s also problematic is the regressive mentality towards its female characters. Women are included purely to be objectified. I mean, I guess that’s to be expected as we see boobs before we’re even out of the opening credits. Fellow CHP officers, Lindsey (Jessica McNamee) and Ava (Rosa Salazar), are “negged” by Ponch and Jon, which of course only makes the men more desirable. A woman’s beauty is almost constantly up for judgement by the guys – mostly coming under scrutiny when they’re ferreting out suspects in not just one, but two scenes. There’s a lazy segment involving Ponch’s “questionable” one-night-stand (Monica Padman) supposedly to condemn his actions and Jon’s shallowness, but winds up mocking her instead. But one of the more abhorrent, comedy-free gags involves Ponch mistakenly engaging in sexy Facetime with his confident superior officer (Jane Kaczmarek) where he recoils seeing her naked body. He excuses his alarm, saying it’s because it was his boss, but really we all know where the joke stems from (ageism towards an older woman’s sexuality).
It’s a shame this widely popular, much beloved show wasn’t treated with more reverence, craft and care. The real boobs on display are the men in charge.
1 out of 5
CHIPS is now playing.