Film Review: CHIPS

California motorcycle cops break up a gang preying on armored cars. Reboot of yet another mediocre TV series provides a small amount of painless diversion.
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Instantly disposable, CHIPS is better than its predecessor TV series, which is a pretty low bar for writer-director Dax Shepard to top. What's surprising is that CHIPS is also better than it has to be. Lazily plotted, puerile, nonsensical, it's also occasionally witty and blithely indifferent to meeting expectations.

In rebooting a bland, family-friendly series, Shepard faced frankly inexplicable hostility from its legacy guardians on social media. Shepard's CHIPS is an R-rated bromance with action scenes. Its leads are rueful, slightly over-the-hill, but still plugging away despite millennial issues like sex addiction, opioid abuse and masculinity's shifting values.

Michael Peña plays a Miami FBI hothead who's sent undercover in California after a bank robbery gets messy. Adopting the identity of Francis "Ponch" Poncherello in the California Highway Patrol, he's supposed to find five crooked cops behind a string of armored-car robberies.

Ponch is partnered with rookie Jon Baker (Shepard), a banged-up former extreme biker who thinks becoming a cop will save his marriage to Karen (Shepard's real-life spouse, Kristen Bell). Popping pills and spouting New Age platitudes, Jon is clueless about life and a terrible shot.

They're after psycho cop Ray Kurtz (Vincent D'Onofrio), identified early on as the bad guy but ignored for long stretches of the plot. Instead, Ponch and Jon bicker about sex, food, homophobia, yoga pants, uniforms, music and other topics with repartee that is decidedly hit-or-miss.

Peña works hard, even when forced to ogle pedestrians or panic at locker-room bonding. He actually carries most of the scenes while Shepard lays back with his California biker shtick. What rescues CHIPS from the genre swamp is how the movie playfully subverts its formula. Shepard and Peña repeatedly bring the movie to a halt to rant about spur-of-the-moment trivia.

A couple of unexpectedly well-mounted motorcycle chases help CHIPS as well. Employing everything from helicopter shots to Go Pros, Shepard and his team put together pounding, kinetic sequences, with the star clearly doing a lot of his own stunts.

Shepard would probably welcome comparisons to 21 Jump Street, The Heat and every other buddy-cop flick over the last four decades. CHIPS isn't the worst, is nowhere near the best, and will be appreciated most while you're waiting to do something else.

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