Review – Buffalo CHiPS (“CHIPs”)

If you remember CHiP’S, the hit 80’s TV show about two CHP officers who had outrageous daily experiences on their routine traffic duties, then you’ll probably recognize this very formula set-up. Yes, it’s just another attempt to capitalize on resurrecting old TV shows back to the silver screen like 21 Jump Street or Starsky & Hutch.
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A pet project of actor Dax Shepard (who’s known for being married to Kristen Bell), he wrote, co-produced, and directed this send-up of the old 80’s TV show, complete with CHP bikes doing amazing stunts, explosions, and women in yoga pants. But you also have some rather gruesome dismemberments, coarse and graphic language that is supposed to pass for humor, and it even gets dark in some places. And this is a comedy?

Working with an A-typical script and plot (lather, rinse, lather again) we start with two diametrically opposite guys: L.A. buff’d & ripp’d Jon Baker (Shepard) as an ex-X-Games motocross superstar that lives with his nasty ex-wife Karen (Kristen Bell), and plagued by constant pain with his bones cracking like twigs. Failing all his tests, the CHP still hires him because the man can ride a bike “like a mother-f*** “, as he puts it. Sure, that’s makes sense, right? The other guy is Miami FBI agent (Michael Pena) and sexual addict, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (his alias) who goes undercover in L.A. to find the five dirty CHP cops who are stealing from armored cars using hi-tech Ducati bikes.

Naturally, the by-the-book and therapy-session quoting Jon is partnered with the abrasive and overly-zealous Ponch. Suffice to say, they do NOT get along with each other, especially as Ponch is trying his best to crack the clues behind the thefts and Jon just wants to earn his stripes. Between the CHP bikes doing crazy stunts trying to catch the bad guys, Ponch going all ga-ga over girls in yoga pants, and Jon constantly harping on Ponch over his mental and personal sexual preferences, they manage to bond after Jon saves Ponch’s life.

The evil leader of the CHP goon squad, Ray Kurtz (Vincent D’Onofrio), has a plan to convert all the stolen cash to a fancy painting so he can easily get it out of the country, but things go south when his drugged-out son (who, surprisingly, can still ride a bike like Evel Knievel) gets decapitated. Ouch! The ending has Kurtz kidnapping Karen so that he can take his revenge on the guys, but I think you already know what happens next. And for a little cherry on top, you have Erik Estrada coming in at the very end to say “hello”, just so you know that he was okay with this movie.

Written like this was an extended comedy skit you’d see on CollegeHumor.com or FunnyOrDie.com, Shepard wrote this movie like as a series of short gag films that are strung together with a weak, overused plot. He reaches into his comedy grab-bag, and the best he can do is grizzly dismemberment jokes, sophomoric dick and anal jokes, and sexual perversion yuks that fall flatter than the movie’s overall tone, which turns oddly dark at times for no apparent reason. It seems Shepard was trying waaay too hard to be as funny as he could, but only a few bits landed with a modicum of humor.

I will give points to the motorcycle stunt riders in the movie; something I haven’t seen this good in a while, given many of the stunts where done on those clunky CHP Harley-Davidson machines. Credit also to Pena who has slowly risen to the top of Hollywood’s list as a damn fine actor, thanks largely in part to his roles in Ant-Man and The Martian. He actually gives the movie it’s voice, rather than Shepard, and is a more believable and likable character.

Electra Glide In Blue (1973)

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CHP officers don’t have it easy, especially if they’re on the loneliest beat in the world: the Arizona desert highways. But if they’re Robert Blake from TV’s hottest show from the 70’s (Baretta), you got it made. In fact, it was THIS movie that landed him that TV series.

Way before he was accused of murdering his wife outside an Italian restaurant, Blake made a string of movies, this one being one of his best. Blake plays Officer John Wintergreen, the shortest CHP cop in the force who is teamed up with the laziest cop on the beat, “Zipper” Davis (Billy Green Bush). John is hard-working, a ladies-man, and goes by-the-book in his day-to-day job stopping speeders and wayward truck drivers on the long, LONG, Arizona highways. But, despite all the tedium, he yearns to be a detective and a cushy desk job. Zipper just wants to relax in the shade and read comic books all day.

But after a suicide (or is it murder??) is committed on his route, John switched gears and suspects foul play at the crime scene. This catches the eye of high-strung Det. Harvey Poole (Mitchell Ryan) who takes John under his wing as his young protégé. But their partnership is short lived when Harvey discovers, much to his horror, that John has been sleeping with his girlfriend! Well, so much for living the sweet life as a soon-to-be detective…

Back on the CHP beat again, John and Zipper chase down a gang of hippy bikers and finds the possible murder suspect amongst them. But John, acting on his own, finds the real murderer and, shockingly enough, also finds out that it was Zipper who stole the missing $5000 from the crime scene. When John confronts him, Zipper goes crazy and John is forced to kill him! And if that wasn’t bad enough, the following day, a routine traffic stop results in John being at the receiving end of a double-barrel shotgun.

This picture has quite the history: if the movie looks like it was shot in a hurry, it was. Producer/director James William Guercio (a first-time director) had NO permits from the Arizona CHP and shot everything guerrilla-style and very illegally. He took a one-dollar salary so he could afford to pay his cinematographer and, since Guercio was also producer of the rock band Chicago, look to see members of the band in the movie in bit parts! Also, don’t blink or you’ll miss a very young bearded Nick Nolte in a crowd scene.

Based on true story, the screenplay by Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig was, at first, extremely long and came in at 3 1/2 hours, but Guercio tore out pages to shorten the movie and keep it under budget. Although it didn’t exactly go over like gang-busters at the box office, it did develop a cult following later on with the midnight-movie circuit.

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