Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten-up pro motorbiker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job — inside the CHP. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but clash more than click, so kickstarting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way.
Like most of you, I'm guessing, I gave CHIPS a pass when it hit theaters this past spring. A flurry of bad buzz and horrible reviews led me to believe this might be one of the worst movies of the year, and going into reviewing this home video release, I very much felt like this was the movie reviewer equivalent of "taking one for the team". Well, the good news is that CHIPS isn't as awful as you've heard. Don't get me wrong – it's still not a very good movie, but it has sparks of charm here and there. It's a disappointment, to be sure, but not totally dismissible.
Based, of course, on the 1977 series of the same name – even though there's little resemblance to the original -- Dax Shepard stars as Jon Baker, a former motocross legend whose multiple injuries led him to a new career as the oldest rookie patrolman in LAPD history. Michael Peña co-stars as Frank Poncherello – except that he really doesn't. He's actually an FBI agent named Castillo who is sent undercover into the California Highway Patrol to try and find and stop a group of corrupt cops. No bonus points for guessing who he is given as a partner. Of course, Poncherello is supposed to be an Italian name and Peña is clearly not of Italian descent, so perhaps this was the best way the movie could keep both the actor and the name. There's a few jokes over it during the storyline, and despite the big change from the original series, the FBI angle is one of the few parts of the plot that works well.
When you see the name Vincent D'Onofrio in the cast list, it's not hard to figure out who the main villain of this movie is. What's harder to figure out is what Vincent – who is a very good actor – is doing in this rather B-list action-comedy. He plays Ray Kurtz, a cop who is doing what he is doing (primarily holding up armored cars to get their cash) in the hopes of helping his drug-addicted son. Maybe D'Onofrio thought there was more shades of gray to his character (and perhaps there was in the original script), but he's more or less your typical bad guy here.
The biggest problem with CHIPS (aside from the fact that it's not very funny) is that it can't seem to decide what type of movie it wants to be: a standard action movie, a standard comedy, a wild action movie, or a raunchy comedy. There's a little of all four of those in the presentation, causing the tone to shift (often awkwardly) from scene to scene. As for me, I liked the milder stuff in CHIPS a lot more than when the movie goes off the rails – there's an obvious chemistry between the two male leads that is never really explored (the best scene between the two is when Ponch reveals to Jon that he's really with the FBI), so it's a shame he didn't pursue a more character-driven piece.
But even with all its problems, CHIPS isn't a disaster – there's still moments to enjoy here, and the cinematography is quite good (the fact that Shepard chose to use real bikes and cars in the stunts instead of relying on CGI work is a big visual plus). It's by no means something anyone would want to add to their home library without checking it out first (nor is it something I think most will want to view more than once), but I have no problem suggesting a rental here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
CHIPS gets booked onto home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD come housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for The House, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the Lord of the Rings videogame "Middle Earth: Shadow of War", Going in Style, and the DC Universe videogame "Injustice 2". The Blu-ray's main menu is a still image of Dax Shepard and Michael Peña on their motorcyles fist bumping each other, with menu selections across the bottom of screen, some of which open up to horizontal levels above them, as applicable (in other words, the typical Warners' menu design).
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
CHIPS was shot digitally on RED Weapon digital cameras. Although the back of the case claims this movie is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it's actually a "full frame" (at least as that phrase applies to 16x9 TVs) 1.78:1 presentation.
The video presentation here isn't quite top-notch, but it is impressive for the most part. There's a nice level of detail in most shots, and the color palette is full of variety – give Director Dax Shepard and Director of Photography Mitchell Amundsen credit for making CHIPS visually appealing and not yet another movie that follows that overused teal/orange style. Black levels here are decent, although I did note the slightest hint of noise creeping into some of the darker shots. Any defects are also at a minimum – a few minor instances of aliasing (probably expected when half your movie has shots of motorcycles speeding through city streets) and banding, but nothing too glaring.
The movie may not live up to expectations, but it's hard to be disappointed by the video, which at least makes this lackluster film a little more enjoyable to sit through.
The featured audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is about the best one could hope for given the 5.1 limitations. As you may have guessed, there's a lot of action sequences in CHIPS, and this track does its best to provide an immersive experience. The rear speakers get a nice workout in the movie, enhancing everything from crashes to explosions to bullets flying through the air. LFE use is present as well for the explosions, although it's not quite as deep or dynamic as I might have hoped (you'll notice the use, but it's not the low rumbling and vibration that one gets from the very best audio renderings).
Dialogue is almost exclusively front and center, well-rendered, and crisp. There are also no overall glitches or problems with the track that I noticed. The audio falls just a little short of reference quality for a 5.1 track, but it's pretty close. Well done, Warners.
5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish (Latin), French, and Portuguese are also available, as is a 5.1 Dolby Digital English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish (Latin), French, and Portuguese.
This is Not Your Dad's CHiPs (HD 9:04) – This is a standard BTS look at the making of the movie and how it came to be, with comments from Writer/Director/Star Dax Shepard, as well as cast members Michael Peña, Kristen Bell, Ryan Hanson, and others.
Not as awful as you've heard, but still not anywhere near as funny or entertaining as it could have been, CHIPS feels like a missed opportunity. The movie does have a few moments of charm, but sadly the scenes that don't work far outweigh the handful that do. Rent It..