There was a point while watching CHIPS when I realised that I was actively hoping that both the leads might die in a motorcycle accident. That was at about the twenty five minute mark. There was over an hour to go.
CHIPS, the latest 70’s TV show to get a winking, Hollywood comedy makeover, lets us spend time with two of the most unlikeable people I’ve seen recently in a mainstream American movie. They pratfall, swear and leer their way through a story that has all the wit and charm of a cat-calling drunk. The crazy thing is they aren’t meant to be anti-heroes.
The film sets up Dax Shepard’s ‘Baker’ as a dissolute, rock and roll loser, scarred by his days as a motorcross rider and Michael Pena’s ‘Ponch’ as a disciplined, pernickety, vain, cop. This characterisation is immediately forgotten as Baker turns out to be the one who won’t let minor infractions slide and Ponch, the supposedly anal one, wants to give everyone a pass. Dax Shepard has landed a big role way past his time and as a writer and director he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.
This is also gross. Not good gross as in ‘gross out’. It’s gross in the sense that the humour comes from a shitty, mean spirited, place. After establishing their soon-to-be-forgotten personalities we reveal that the uptight one is a getaway driver and the one who doesn’t have his shit together is a rookie cop. On paper that’s funny enough but as Ponch is sitting in his getway car the film stops so we can look at the disembodied arses of two women in yoga pants, bobbing in his rearview mirror. They derail their own gag because, hey, a shot of an arse, even a baffling one, is still a shot of an arse.
[pullquote]Imagine recurring gay panic jokes (where the non homophobe is the weird one) and you get the idea. [/pullquote] The sexist shit comes thick and fast throughout. Later Ponch mistakenly sex-skypes his boss. As the camera pans up her body we get more female nudity until *barf* we see the head of a middle aged woman. The joke is explicity not ‘Oh,shit that’s my boss’ it’s ‘Oh, shit, she’s old!‘. Dax Shapard had a joke in his hands but just can’t help but be a complete shithead. The ageism runs one way as Baker’s growth is demonstrated by telling his cartoonish, cheating, bitch wife (Kristen Bell in a push up bra) to get lost so he can allow a young hottie to throw herself at him. It’s odd how this young woman is attracted to the much older writer/director/star, isn’t it? Imagine recurring gay panic jokes (where the non homophobe is the weird one) and you get the idea. They’ve polished something from decades ago and somehow it feels more retrograde.
The plot concerns – ah, who gives a fuck?
This film makes you wish it was directed by a filmmaker who could discern between obnoxious characters and an obnoxious movie. In Superbad, Jonah Hill says all sorts of disgusting stuff but the film’s clever enough to know he’s a moron. Here, the over edited slapstick action scenes also made me wish I was watching the Jump Street movies, The Heat, Pineapple Express…
It’s fine for a movie to lack originality but when your comedy’s dialogue amounts to ‘Baker says something weird’ followed by his partner exclaiming ‘You’re super weird, bro!’ then you should try harder. There is literally one funny joke in this whole thing. The rest of the time Dax Shepard doesn’t know the difference between self deprecation and a vanity project. He’s playing a total loser that everyone wants to fuck. He’s a loveable chump with a hangdog face who rates a normal looking woman as ‘2/10’. He also doesn’t know the difference between an absurd joke and a ‘fuck you’ to the audience. The Simpson’s ‘Knightboat’ made fun of the convenient fact that every week there’s a canal, inlet or fjord to help the hero. In CHIPS there is always a ramp. The difference is that we’re meant to take this at face value.
What’s most annoying isn’t that CHIPS thinks that women are disgusting or that swearing is inherently funny or even that Dax Shepard is someone the public enjoys. What’s most annoying is that it thinks that you are stupid and on its side. This whole thing is like someone making a bigoted joke then turning to you and saying ‘C’mon, you know what I’m talking about, right?’. It’s this assumption that you are on its level that’s the worst thing about CHIPS, an early contender for the title of ‘Worst Movie of 2017’.
The Worst Movie of 2017 (so far) is in cinemas from Friday 24th March.
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