CHIPS (2017)

 

CHiPS. Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dax Shephard. Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Vincent D’Onofrio. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Dax Shepard’s third directorial effort reboots 1977 TV cop drama CHiPS into a raunchy buddy cop comedy. It’s not the best comedy but it entertains for enough of its runtime.

Larry Wilcox’s Jon Baker (Shepard) is updated to a washed-out stunt motorcyclist with no more fans or sponsors. His sole motivation is saving his marriage with wife Karen (Kristen Bell), and he brings up his marriage problems so much you can turn it into a drinking game.

Michael Peña is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, an FBI agent who is brought into the California Highway Patrol as an undercover agent to investigate an armoured van robbery ring rooted within the CHP itself. He’s partnered with Baker, and their chemistry isn’t great because and they bicker from the start.

Their fights in the first half are only occasionally funny. They establish Baker spends so much time in couple’s therapy that he’s almost an expert in trying to get to the root of Ponch’s problems. He’s a better wannabe psychologist than police officer since he can’t shoot his gun with any accuracy whatsoever.

They’re some of the worst on-screen cops you’ll see. Ponch is also reckless and does everything an undercover cop shouldn’t do. Plus, he can barely ride a motorcycle, which makes him the butt of some of the film’s funniest jokes during the chase scenes. Baker’s only graduated because he’s great at riding a motorcycle.

The problem with these bad cops is that they’re not believably written, and while it’s like a farce of bad cops, the film’s not clever so the line between attempted farce and plain stupid comedy blurs. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously so it still manages to be fun.

CHIPS (1)

One of the many chase scenes in CHIPS (Source). 

The stunts and chase scenes are great. It blends extreme sports with comedy and it works well, especially because of some of the bike jump stunts. The action’s well-directed and more fun than some jokes. The action scenes and umpteen crashes and explosions help distract from a simplistic story written by Dax Shepard.

The heists are fun but Shepard’s decision to reveal the bad cops to us from the word go removes all their mystery, and since we know who they are so long before our dynamic duo, the story loses punch and surprise. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the tough-as-nails corrupt cop ring leader. He’s a generically written brute only enlivened by D’Onofrio. His character is cruel for no reason and it makes him campy, especially when he breaks out a SWAT tank – which is admittedly awesome.

Shepard holds some characters back who are criminals and unceremoniously reveals them as baddies far too early. It’s disappointing because it would be a nice surprise to find out they’re villainous when Ponch and Baker learn it.

He doesn’t pen a strong story but his jokes are decent, and it finds a balance between big laughs and forgettable chuckles. Some gross-out raunchiness misses, especially a joke about how Baker doesn’t know the new trends of oral sex, that loses slight cleverness when it’s used too many times.

The main duo’s chemistry strengthens after they stop bickering, which helps make it a decent buddy comedy since they start to enjoy each other’s company. Plus, they are funny people. They become friends when Ponch makes lip contact with Jon’s wiener – and it’s funny, but it doesn’t feel naturally enough to be a believable best friend moment. Their chemistry suffers because of it. They don’t feel like besties like Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street – and they don’t have a natural chemistry like the guys in Super Troopers.

CHIPS

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena in CHIPS. (Source)

The supporting cast doesn’t leave an impression – though Maya Rudolph gives a decent cameo, and there are other familiar faces that pop up. The supporting characters are so one-note – especially Jessica McNamee, Rosa Salazar and Adam Brody – and it feels like Ponch and Baker are the only characters Shepard bothers to develop.

The self-involved nature of all the characters make them jerks. Baker’s obsession with his severed marriage is the film’s most annoying aspect, especially since it’s so obvious it’s over he seems delusional. Ponch is mostly just a cliché womanizer and sex addict, who has perfected one-night stands by writing the name of the woman on a Post-It note and putting it on his bathroom mirror.

Jon’s wife Karen (Bell) is the biggest jerk of them all and treats Jon terribly throughout. She feels satirical of trophy wives, but it would help if she was funny – instead, she’s heartless and terribly written. The character almost made me hate Bell whenever she was on-screen. Her talent feels wasted – but kudos to her for being a believable jerk, especially to her real-life husband.

CHIPS is a funny ride overall that gives the ‘70s cop show a modern comedy twist. It’s nice that Shepard gets to mix his love for motorcycles with comedy, but his passion merely translates into a forgettable action comedy.

Score: 60/100

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Hail, Caesar! (2016) review

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 1hr, 46 min.

I love the work of Joel and Ethan Coen because of their sense of humour and great tales. The pair of directors follow up Inside Llewyn Davis with a period piece set in the 1950s, Hail, Caesar!

The film follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fixer at Hollywood production lot Capitol Pictures. He navigates through arising issues, like a production needing a new star actor.

He also has to navigate through the rare kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the production company’s biggest movie of the year, Hail, Caesar!

It’s a cool commentary on the capitalism of Hollywood in the 1950s. There’s lots of communism in the film, and a group of communist writers, especially David Krumholtz, are quite amusing. It’s a good companion piece to their 1991 film Barton Fink, also set in 1950s Hollywood.

Caesar is mainly notable for its hilarious moments. From clever banter between Ralph Fiennes’ character Laurence Laurentz and Alden Ehrenreich’s wild west actor Hobie Doyle to a fun discussion between religious figures of how to properly portray Christ in the film; these stand as memorable scenes.

Hail, Caesar! Baird Whitlock

George Clooney as Bair Whitlock in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

There’s also an entertaining musical number featuring Channing Tatum. He steals multiple scenes in the entertaining romp. It might be surprising to hear a Coen film described as a romp as they’re known for darker humour.

The Coen brothers resist and don’t go nearly as dark as they could have, which is atypical but likely necessary since it is just a harmless comedy musical with a bit of mystery (but nonsensical mystery).

But it seems to be their first feel-good feature, in the traditional sense. Simply because with what may seem like a caper doesn’t amount to much.

I saw the film on Feb. 7 and I’m still trying to decipher what the heck the point of the film is. That’s why I think it’s a good companion piece for Barton Fink, because I didn’t think that one made a hell of a lot of sense, either.

It feels like the point of the film was to keep you entertained throughout so you wouldn’t notice that the actual story-line is as fragile as one of Hobie Doyle’s spaghetti lassos. But the laughs are the only thing saving the film from a near-disaster.

Hail, Caesar! Scar Jo

Scarlett Johansson in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Josh Brolin gives a fun performance as Eddie Mannix, where he goes from sneaking cigarettes and confessing at Church to him getting a job offer so he doesn’t have to make long hours or solve problems for the Hollywood types.

He navigates through getting director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes) a new star for his drama (in the form of Hobie Doyle, who can only act on a horse) to helping save the reputation of a starlet, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson).

It’s an episodic story-line, but the laughs offered throughout make it well-worth it. Caesar is also stunningly shot by Roger Deakins, using a 35mm film to shoot the period piece. Some scenes are more breathtaking than others, notably the aforementioned Tatum dance scene.

But my favourite, in terms of cinematography, was the scene with Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in an aquatic dance number, surely emulating a scene from 1952’s Million Dollar Mermaid.

The said scene is shot with a live orchestra – though, it doesn’t have nearly the same mesmerizing effect as when it was matched with Jamie N Commons’ Rumble and Sway in the film’s trailers. The score by Carter Burwell is good.

Hail, Caesar! Channy

Channing Tatum in his big musical number in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Tilda Swinton appears in an amusing dual role as identical twin gossip columnists trying to get the scoop on the daily on-goings of the studio. They want to run a column on an on-set story about Baird Whitlock on the set of On Wings as Eagles (amusingly, the title’s utterance cues an eagle’s shrill).

Clooney is funny as Whitlock and the ensemble cast is great. Alden Ehrenreich is also a lot of fun as the B-movie Western actor Doyle. Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) offers soothing narration, and Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill are good in their one-scene appearances.

Despite the fact that Hail, Caesar! has sporadic greatness, it is a blemish in the Coen canon because of how average it can be. By the end of the rather anti-climactic film, I couldn’t help but ask: “That was it?”

3.5 out of 5

22 Jump Street (2014)

22 Jump StreetReleased: June 13, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube. Runtime: 112 min.

After seeing 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an 80s cop show featuring Johnny Depp, about seven times – it’s safe to say that I was quite excited for 22 Jump Street. Blending enough old and enough new to keep everyone satisfied, this is a great sequel, a satisfying film and just a great time at the movies. This starts out with Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) going undercover at a local college to disrupt the widespread distribution of a new drug called WHYPHY. This stands for Work Hard, Yes; Play Hard, Yes. It gives users the ability to become super focused for four hours – perhaps to help them study – and then they party hard.

Like the first one, they are tasked with finding the dealer and then finding the supplier. There are constant jokes that this investigation is exactly the same thing as the last one. They just have to do the same thing to bust the case wide open, and this cleverly sets our expectations from the get-go. Sometimes the exact same thing bit gets a bit tiresome by the cast mentioning it a bit too much, but it’s all very meta and it has the same clever, self-aware humour that the original possessed. And it also has some funny jokes about sequels this time around. It’s a great formula, too, because the first one was such a success because no one expected that much from it – but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller jumped on the map (after dabbling with animation, first with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and then The LEGO Movie earlier this year) and surprised everyone.

The film finds a great pace and comedic momentum to match that of the first. However, the sub-plots are a bit off. Jenko and Schmidt have a role reversal this time around, and a funny, textbook “bromance” is put in place, and it even has little aspects that mirror romantic movies, and it changes this to a bro-mantic movie. Anyway, about the sub-plots. In the first film, when Jenko was being left out of things, and Schmidt was in the heart of the investigation, the film still managed to make both partners’ different social groups have great chemistry with each other and get a few good laughs. This time, Schmidt’s social group, the more artsy poetic types, are mildly funny, but there’s not as much of a focus on them this time around. Instead, the focus is more on the social group that Jenko begins to hang out with: the dumb jocks, featuring a boring Wyatt Russell portraying a guy named Zook. There’s a big bromance focus between Jenko and him, and the character’s just not that great. This sub-plot doesn’t get a ton of laughs, and it makes the film have unfortunate derivative stretches, where Lord and Miller show that the only type of film they shouldn’t direct is a football movie.

Another minor issue: There’s a tiring joke where people still comment on how old Hill and Tatum’s characters look. It’s funny when a pair of twins comment that Hill and Tatum have “crow’s feet,” because the twins actually look young. But when the actress whose schtick is saying that Hill looks like he’s 30 in a lot of different, sometimes funny one-liners, looks to be in her late-20’s herself, it just doesn’t have the same believable effect. In fact, the actress, Jillian Bell, is also thirty years old in real life, the same age as Hill’s character. That part of the humour just doesn’t work. There’s only one other occasion where my suspension of disbelief was stretched. It’s easier to forgive in dumb comedies, but with smart ones like this one, I can’t let it slide as easily.

Don’t get me wrong, the film still truly works. It has dynamite stretches of hilarity, and a great comedic momentum. Hill and Tatum also have a stunning chemistry. It’s also enjoyable that Ice Cube gets deeper into the story, instead of being a bit too sidelined like the first one. The actor’s intense shtick works for the character, a lot more so than it did for his character in Ride Along. I loved this film because it let me leave satisfied, and it’s even greater to know that there are enough movie ideas to make this last longer than the Marvel franchise.

Score: 85/100

White House Down (2013)

White House DownRelease Date: June 28, 2013. Director: Roland Emmerich. Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Runtime: 131 min.

Apparently infiltrating the White House is so easy, everyone’s doing it! (And they just finished re-building it, too!) All you have to do is rally up a bunch of people who are angry at the government, spend a day planning, synchronize your watches, and go to town. But be careful, there’s going to be a highly-decorated police officer of some kind standing in your way.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a Capitol police officer on tour of the White House with his daughter Emily (Joey King). He is also interviewing for a spot on the Secret Service, protecting President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). On that very day, because the President issued an international Peace Treaty, a paramilitary group invades the White House; now John must save his daughter, the President, and the country.

Whether it be Channing Tatum vs. a 25-person paramilitary group or Gerard Butler vs. North Korea’s entire 300 person army, both action guys are forces to be reckoned with. “Olympus Has Fallen” had to face comparisons to “Die Hard” back in March, so compared to this, it is living on easy street. Now, this has to face comparisons to both “Die Hard” and “Olympus.” Will it stand strong through all of it? Probably not.

“White House Down” is the better movie in some ways – but “Olympus” has the benefit of being released first. The former is superior to the latter in the CGI-effects department, the higher-profile director, and the cast. Even against the likes of Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Melissa Leo; once you have Tatum, Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal and then add the extra oomph of James Woods, Richard Jenkins and Jason Clarke; there’s no competition. But “Olympus” wins in many other aspects.

“Olympus” embraces its over-the-top brutality and the insane premise of a terrorist group taking down the most heavily protected house on Earth in a matter of minutes. That movie is a lot of fun. This is only mildly fun. It has fun with the premise, but its aspirations of becoming a great buddy action comedy feel forced. This feels too serious at times, which doesn’t work to the film’s benefit with so many frustrating “Okay, that’ll never happen!” moments. Granted, this premise will never happen – but if it does ever happen, we should all hope that the actual John McClane is taking a tour of the White House that day.

The antagonists’ motives are explained well for the most part. Cale’s motivations to stay at the White House to save his daughter are evident as well, even if those motivations are cookie-cutter. But that isn’t bad for this type of movie, because audiences are there for the action. There just isn’t enough of it.

The build-up takes too long, and this type of movie needs to have tension building that doesn’t take forever. There’s a lot of drama there, and we just want the action. And the bits of humour. Thankfully, there’s quite a lot of that, too. One of the members of the paramilitary group (the amusing hacker, Jimmi Simpson) has a lot of charisma, so he is the best antagonist in the movie – even better than the boss man (who I won’t reveal, even if (s)he’ll be blatantly obvious). There’s a prominent buddy comedy aspect, and even if the jokes aren’t so memorable, they provide big laughs at the time.

“White House Down” is familiar and forgettable, but it’s not a horrible way to pass 131 minutes. It just doesn’t bring enough to the table to be noteworthy. Since it’s so familiar, there are few surprises hiding away, and the antagonists are obvious from the get go. Apparently, if you’ve seen one Die Hard in the White House movie; you’ve seen them all.

Score: 58/100

Recap of June’s Theatrical Releases

I saw six out of the nine major theatrical releases of June. I still plan on seeing the following from the month of June, in alphabetical order: “Berberian Sound Studio”, “The Bling Ring”, “Byzantium”, “The Internship”, “Maniac”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “Song for Marion”, “Syrup” (because I love Brittany Snow), “Violet & Daisy”, White House Down”. Considering that the lowest score of June’s new releases was 50 out of 100 (surprisingly “awarded” to “Man of Steel”), it was hardly a bad month for movies. Here’s the ranking of the June’s releases from best to worst, with a blurb from each of my reviews.

This is the End (6/12)

This is the End (6/12) [My review]

“This is an insanely funny movie. Ridiculous, yes, but a sure blast if there ever was one. It’s all good old-fashioned, self-aware bliss. This just shows that a comedy about hanging out with one’s best buds could be a real gem to the genre. Adam Sandler could take quite a few pointers from this comedy.” 91/100. This was my fourth most anticipated movie of June, and it exceeded expectations, and it’s currently my favourite movie of the year thus far. 

IMDb Score: 7.9/10Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 7/10RT Audience: 8/10.

Monsters University (6/21)

Monsters University (6/21) [My review]

“I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to “Monsters, Inc.”, and an impressive Pixar movie.” 90/100. This was my most anticipated movie of June, and it truly satisfied.

IMDb Score: 7.8/10RTC: 6.7/10; RTA: 8.4/10.

World War Z (6/21)

World War Z (6/21) [My review]

“The story’s a good one, as far as ‘find the cure’ movies go. Since I have not read the book, I cannot comment on any similarities or big differences. All I can say is, it’s a story that plays well on the screen. I like that Drew Goddard has a hand in the screenplay; because he has talent. It’s a traditional, but very enjoyable ‘find the cure’ type of film.” 75/100. This was my tenth most anticipated movie of June, so it really impressed. 

IMDb Score: 7.3/10RTC: 6.2/10RTA: 7.6/10.

The Heat (6/28)

The Heat (6/28) [My review]

“The humour is raunchy as hell, but usually funny as hell. When I wasn’t laughing at the jokes, I was at least smirking a little. When it isn’t being hilarious, the likeable chemistry between Bullock and McCarthy really carries it along. The movie balances out to a fun, predictable, but hysterical time at the movies.” 75/100. This was my seventh most anticipated movie of June, so it did satisfy. 

IMDb Score: 7.1/10RTC: 6.0/10; RTA: 8.0/10.

The Purge (6/7)

The Purge (6/7) [My review]

“The concept helps make this movie memorable. However, this rushed home invasion flick/intriguing social commentary ends up being incredibly average. It’s disappointing, and while it has some worthwhile menacing villains, it’s the latest movie to the Great Concept, Poor Execution category.” 57/100. This was my third most anticipated movie of June, so it was truly disappointing.

IMDb Score: 5.6/10; RTC: 5.1/10; RTA: 6.0/10.

Man of Steel (6/14)

Man of Steel (6/14) [My review]

“I do not appreciate the constant changes in tone throughout the feature. It goes from big, stupid action to character-driven drama that feels real. It becomes bothersome quickly, and it does not make for effective storytelling.” 50/100. This was my second most anticipated movie of June, so it was a big let-down.

IMDb Score: 7.8/10; RTC: 6.3/10RTA: 8.0.

Here are some statistics: 

IMDb Ranking: 1. “This is the End” (7.9), 2. “Man of Steel” (7.8), 2. “Monsters University” (7.8), 4. “World War Z” (7.3), 5. “The Heat” (7.1), 6. “The Purge” (5.6). Average score: 7.25/10. 

RT Critics Ranking: 1. “This is the End” (7.0), 2. “Monsters University” (6.7), 3. “Man of Steel” (6.3), 4. “World War Z” (6.2), 5. “The Heat” (6.0), “The Purge” (5.1). Average score: 6.21/10. 

RT Audience Ranking: 1. “Monsters University” (8.4), 2. “The Heat” (8.0), 2. “Man of Steel” (8.0), 2. “This is the End” (8.0), 5. “World War Z” (7.6), 6. “The Purge” (6.0). Average score: 7.66/10.

My Average score: 73/100. (Adjusted [excluding lowest grade]: 77.6/100.)

What movies did you enjoy out of June’s releases, and which ones did you hate? There were a total six votes in my Most Anticipated Movies of June poll (4 to “Man of Steel”, 1 to “This is the End”, and 1 to “Monsters University”, which was my vote). Did your most anticipated movie satisfy or disappoint the hell out of you? Let me know in the comments!

Also: I’ll be posting my Best of the Year So Far article sometime this weekend or early next week. Stay tuned! 

 

The Vow (2012)

The VowThe Vow

Release Date: February 10, 2012

Director: Michael Sucsy

Stars: Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill

Runtime: 104 min

I wrote the original review of this back in late August, and I just tweaked it a little.

The true story of it all seems like it’s a sad one, but the Hollywood version turns it into a complete and total schmaltz-fest. It’s apparent that we’re supposed to relate or feel pity for the characters, but it proves difficult sometimes.

The first half starts off on a fairly strong point with a nice little original wedding, the injury on account of lack of seatbelt, the amnesia bit. Then, the parents come in (Jessica Lange and Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill), wanting their baby girl home because she ran away a while ago.

It soon turns into a total schmaltz fest, that, if you are unaware that it’s a true story, you might think it comes right out of the mind of Nicholas Sparks. At the half-way mark, it’s hard not to lose interest in the characters and the story itself and the hardest task is not to mimic the people in the film, much like I did with The Lucky One. The film just doesn’t get any better.

The film isn’t entirely unendurable, but it’s a sub-par effort with lazy and predictable writing, that had the tendency to be too cute. The filmmakers probably feel having Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams on board, their appeal would satisfy audiences, and there wouldn’t be a need for good writers. News flash: That doesn’t work, guys. The chemistry between McAdams and Tatum was likeable enough, even though there was a lot of very irritating fights.

The film is part sad, part feel-good, but very average, with the best part being McAdams and Tatum.

55/100

21 Jump Street (2012)

 21 Jump Street

Release Date: March 16, 2012

Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube

Runtime: 109 min

Tagline: The only thing getting blown tonight is their cover.

  Schmidt and Jenko are two new young looking police officers, whose boss feels that they don’t have what it takes to be on that force. He then transfers them to 21 Jump Street, a task force made for young looking cops to infiltrate crime rings, and Schmidt and Jenko are going to have to go back to high school and take down a drug ring.

 It’s actually a really funny film, and does a really great job of keeping comedic momentum. Some of it can get pretty silly, but I really enjoyed the film – as it had great comedy and pretty sweet action sequences. The only thing I disliked about it a little is how it took a turn for the predictable at times, but only on a few occasions – and other than that it was very great.

The whole cast is really just a great ensemble, and they each bring something special to the film. I didn’t think Tatum could be this funny, and he surprised me in this. Hill is also one of my favourite young comedy actors.

This film stars Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper.

It’s one of the greatest comedy films of this year, one of my general favourite comedies, and the best action comedy mash-up I have seen this year. It’s in the same league as comedy film greats such as The Hangover and Superbad. 

90/100

Review written on: August 4, 2012 by Daniel Prinn