CHiPs is a Ride You’ll Probably Want to Skip

Hollywood finally does the motorcycle justice, but is the movie any good?

If, by some random fate of the internet, you ended up reading a review for CHiPs on a motorcycle website in spite of the fact that you have no interest in motorcycles, then let me cut to the chase: CHiPs is not a very good movie. Not in the traditional sense. The plot is unnecessarily complicated, it's self-indulgently obscene, and worst of all, it's just not consistently funny. But, if you do see it, you'll witnesses some of the finest displays of motorcycle riding and motorcycle filming to ever come across the silver screen. And that's what we're excited about.

CHiPs Baker and Poncherello
Actors Dax Shepard and Michael Peña saddle up on a couple of BMW R1200 RTs for a remake of the classic TV series. Their chemistry is great, but the script usually leaves them hanging.Photo: Warner Bros.

For the uninitiated, CHiPs is based on the television series of the same name that ran from 1977-1983. Like the original show, the movie follows motorcycle-mounted CHP officers Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank Poncherello (Michael Peña) as they protect/terrorize Los Angeles with their policing escapades. But, gone are the days of wholesome jokes and feathered hair. This movie-version of CHiPs is raunchy, and violent, and wears its R-rating like a badge of honor. On the surface, that's a good thing. There's no sense in remaking or rebooting a series if you aren't going to bring something new to the table. But there's a nagging sense of superficiality to the filth in this movie. To be clear, I am not at all opposed to seeing movies with sex, violence, and cursing. This isn't the beginning of some tirade about the fall of civilization because our minds are in the gutter. I just think these elements should be used in service of the story. They should make movies funnier, scarier, or more realistic. And sadly, that's not the case for CHiPs.

Actors Dax Shepard and Michael Peña in new CHiPs movie
Most of the first act shows these two characters butting heads. Nothing new for the police genre.Photo: Warner Bros.

As far as the story is concerned, it's an oddly convoluted affair. The movie stages itself as an origin story for the Jon/Ponch pairing, but it struggles to balance the development of their camaraderie with the larger plot of dirty, motorcycle-riding cops robbing armored cars around the L.A. area. Why are these cops robbing armored cars? I couldn't tell you. Why do they all ride brand-new Ducati Hypermotards? No idea. There's something mentioned about them being "all-terrain" motorcycles but it seems more like a savvy marketing move by Ducati than a practical decision made for the movie. The point is, by the time we get to the big chase scene at the end of the film, it's still not clear why these bad guys are fighting or what they're fighting for. Motivations are never made clear and the result is that the stakes never feel that high.

Motorcycle crashes in new CHiPs movie
Motorcycles were almost certainly harmed in the making of this film.Photo: Warner Bros.

One thing that's certain, however, is writer/director/star Dax Shepard's love for motorcycles. The movie goes to great lengths to get the sights and sounds of being on two wheels done right and that in itself is a minor miracle for Hollywood. For years motorcycle fans have been subjected to the cinema crimes of trailered bikes, green screen backgrounds, and two-stroke sounds on four-stroke machines. Not to mention the never-ending suggestion that any secret agent with half a week of training can ride a bike at the level of Travis Pastrana or Marc Marquez. In CHiPs, it feels like Shepard genuinely cares that these things are done right.

Ducati Hypermotard in CHiPs movie
What's that? A Hypermotard that actually has engine noise from a Ducati v-twin? Bravo, filmmakers.Photo: Warner Bros.

We'd be particularly remiss if we didn't heap some praise on the stunt team that made the motorcycle magic in this movie happen. These guys are often overlooked in big films where computer effects do most of the heavy lifting, but the action scenes in CHiPs show that there's nothing like doing the riding for real. So, to the stunt riders like "Joe Vertical" Dryden and David Castillo, who obviously risked some life and limb to make these chase scenes look as realistic as possible, we salute you. It's no easy feat to make a BMW R1200 RT look as lithe as a sport bike or a Hypermotard as nimble as a dirt bike, but these guys did it with flying colors.

Motorcycle jump scene in CHiPs movie
You can't help but be impressed by some of the stunt riding. Where this Hyper is going, they don't need roads.Photo: Warner Bros.

And there's the rub; CHiPs has the realistic motorcycle action we've always wanted, but it's buried deep within a second-rate comedy that we've already tried to forget. It seems unlikely that this movie will light the box office on fire, but I secretly hope that it does. Success here means there's a chance that Hollywood execs will finally see some value in making motorcycle movies, and we've certainly sat through enough boxing flicks to deserve a few classics of our own. My honest advice is to skip the two hours you would spend at the theater watching CHiPs this weekend and go for a ride instead. You'll feel better about how you spent your time and, who knows, maybe you'll come up with the next great idea to put motorcycles up on the big screen.