I’m “biast” (con): enough with the reboots
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
In 2011, the comedian and actor Dax Shepard made his feature debut with the mockumentary Brother’s Justice. In it, he plays a version of himself as — in the words of Gary Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times — “an impulsive, clueless narcissist on a journey to reinvent himself as an action star.” The plot involves Shepard running around Hollywood trying to raise money to make a cash-grab action movie starring himself. His 2012 second feature as writer and director (and star), action comedy Hit and Run, might have looked like a fulfillment of that dream, if Shepard squinted hard enough: though it was low-budget and independently financed, it was a mild success (earning $14 million on a budget of $2 million). That doesn’t get you a good parking spot on a studio lot, however.
So somehow — on the back of Hit and Run, perhaps — Shepard convinced Warner Bros. to give him $25 million to write and direct an unironically idiotic reboot of a pleasantly, earnestly cheesy 70s/80s TV show about motorcycle cops in Los Angeles. Even though the pitch for this movie cannot have been too far off this: “Imagine Idiocracy’s Ass, but with cops and motorcycles. But without any cool motorcycle stunts, and with pretty much the worst cops LA has ever seen. Starring me.”
Imagine being the studio exec who said, “Shut up and take our money!”
Imagine being Dax Shepard, and thinking you’ve made it. I hear Forrest Gump’s voice saying, in whispered awe: “Her dream had come true. She was a folk singer,” as Jenny strums a guitar naked in a strip club.
CHiPs is about absolutely nothing but Shepard (The Boss, The Judge) showing off his buff body — though, oddly, in ways that are not in the least bit appealing or erotic — while also demonstrating how not homophobic he is even as he engages the audience’s presumed homophobia. This is a movie that is constantly engaging gay-panic “humor” while also being all like “Hey, bro, chill, it’s all cool.” It gaslights homophobes, which sounds like it should be a good thing, but isn’t. We are meant to laugh at men being uncomfortable with other men’s bodies. We are meant to laugh at accidental physical contact between men that isn’t condoned by the Straight Dudes’ Essential Manual for Not Being a Total Fag. But then there’s the camera lingering on Shepard’s pecs in the most absurdly awkward way, like he’s posing for the Sears 1979 menswear catalog, maybe, a hopelessly, cluelessly dorky idea of male beauty by a man who doesn’t find men beautiful but only wants us to notice how much he’s been working out.
This is pretty fucking exhausting, in fact.
Most of the other stuff meant to pass for humor here is Michael Peña’s (Collateral Beauty, The Martian) character being a sex addict who has to stop to jerk off every hour or so, his ability to genuinely find women powerfully sexually attractive even if they aren’t hottie Barbie dolls, and his willingness to orally pleasure women. Two of those three are authentically good advice for men who would like to have regular sex with women, and not actually things straight men should be presenting as humor, or laughing at.
CHiPs is, of course, sort of an acronym for the California Highway Patrol division of the LAPD, which this movie has little use for. Shepard’s Jon Baker is the oldest rookie ever at the CHP, a distinction he has achieved even though he shows every sign of being a terrible, terrible police officer. He is supposed to be a former X Games athlete and seriously badass motorcycle rider looking to make a new start. This seems like the setup for a movie that might feature, you know, some seriously badass motorcycle riding, even if it had to be a stuntman wearing a helmet pretending to be Jon. A modern-day version of that old show could have been like the first Fast and the Furious, all energetic and exciting vehicular stunt driving. It isn’t. Instead, we get the ordinary injustice of a totally incompetent and unqualified white man being given an incredible break, just because, and then proceeding to do barely even any of the thing he is supposed to be really good at.
Jon’s partner is Peña’s Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, who isn’t even LAPD but an FBI agent undercover to investigate a series of armored-car robberies that seem to be inside jobs pulled off by LAPD officers. Apart from the confounding enigma of Vincent D’Onofrio (The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World) slumming it, for unknown reasons, as the cop-slash-robbery gang leader, there is almost no mystery in this ostensible plot.
If kindergartners were let loose to make an action movie, it might look like this: full of toilet humor, cars exploding for no reason, and random naked boobies. How proud everyone involved must be.