“CHiPs” opens with the onscreen message: “The California Highway Patrol does not endorse this film. At all.” At first, it seems like a tongue-in-cheek joke about police officers not wanting a movie to make light of their jobs. Then the movie starts. Walking out of the theater, it is clear that the disclaimer was a warning, an omen not heeded. No one in their right mind would want to be associated with a comedy this tepid and devoid of laughs, least of all the people it allegedly portrays. It’s a crime-comedy with a boring crime and next-to-no comedy, annoying at best and offensive at worst.
It starts out harmlessly enough, with early scenes wisely leaning more heavily on Michael Peña (“Collateral Beauty”), by far the funnier of the two leads — about three of the four jokes in the entire movie that work do so because of him. Then, the story shifts into gear, and it becomes clear what type of comedy “CHiPs” will be. It’s the kind where there aren’t really any jokes, the writers just force in lengthy conversations about things that aren’t innately funny in the hope that, at some point, God will smile upon them and comedy will present itself.
So viewers are left with conversations on such wide-ranging, fascinating topics as poop and “scrotal tears” that feel like they go on for a small eternity. These things can be funny if something funny is being said, but when, say, charmless characters are just talking about anilingus over and over again, that tends to be more annoying than anything else.
Perhaps if the characters were charming or likable, it would be easier to give “CHiPs” a pass, but instead, the characters seem to fall into a handful of easily divisible categories. The women — except for director, writer and star Dax Shepard’s (“The Boss”) wife, Kristen Bell (“Bad Moms”) — exist to be sexualized or made fun of for their lack of attractiveness in a series of gags about being a “two out of ten” that, if nothing else, will probably give our sitting president a hearty laugh. The men of the movie exist either to be macho, macho men or to be made fun of for not being enough of a macho, macho man.
The latter group seems to speak to a deeper misogyny or just plain bigotry at the heart of “CHiPs.” As director, Shepard has no problem with putting bare breasts on screen whenever possible, but when the time comes for him to get naked — in a role that he wrote and cast himself in no less — nudity is suddenly a bridge too far, and he opts to blur it out in one of the most hypocritical creative decisions in recent memory. If it were possible to chalk it up to anything other than Shepard’s cowardice, it might be the funniest moment in the movie. As it is, it’s still so brazenly out of place and nonsensical that it’s worth an incredulous “Did that really just happen?” smile.
With the dearth of any source of amusement on display, the desperate mind of an average “CHiPs” viewer will begin to look elsewhere for entertainment. They will find none. As with seemingly all modern comedies, the movie takes a sudden turn into self-seriousness in a sequence that is bereft of laughter — intentionally this time. Similarly dour is Vincent D’Onofrio, who isn’t bad, but his villain — with his sudden bursts of violent anger and forced backstory for the sake of “sympathy” — feels like a poor man’s version of his much better turn on “Marvel’s Daredevil.”
With its tone, “CHiPs” is clearly trying to emulate the wild success and critical acclaim of “21 Jump Street,” but where the writers should have learned to balance satirizing the action-comedy genre while paying tribute to their source material, they instead learned to cram in as many F-bombs as possible and go for the easy poop joke whenever they can. The result may include a couple decent bike chases but is otherwise tiringly awkward and unfunny to the point of mental agony.