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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The Nut Job (2014)

The Nut JobReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Peter Lepeniotis. Starring: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson. Runtime: 85 min.

Apparently, it takes three writers, two to write the screenplay and one to think of the story, to write a really bad animated movie tailored mostly for the kids’ enjoyment. There’s three mildly amusing laughs, but that’s about it for the laughs for anyone over the age of 10, unless one of your comedy weaknesses is squirrels farting. “The Nut Job” follows the adventures of Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) who, after destroying the city park’s food supply for the winter, is banished to the scary city. He is not alone, as he is accompanied by his best friend, a mute rat named Buddy. With luck on their side, they find a Nut store (and arbitrarily start to dance to Psy’s “Gagnam Style,” where you have to wonder how they’re hearing the music) where there’s enough nuts to feed the park for many winters to come. But that’s only if Surly is gonna share! He enlists the help of his acquaintances (because he’s too cool to have more than one friend; one at a time, friends and neighbours) to rob the store of their nut supply.

Dancing aimlessly to music they're not really hearing

Dancing aimlessly to music they’re not really hearing

The premise is designed in a way that might appeal to adults, because, hey, it’s a still a heist film. It’s handled poorly with dumb humour and too many nut puns, like “Hey, don’t go nuts on me,” crap like that. This is sort-of like the premise of “Over the Hedge,” because these are both films about a group of wild animals collecting food, and there’s a character here that’s a mix between Steve Carrell’s Hammy and the adorable lemur from the “Madagascar” franchise. This is such a poor movie because it’s, underneath it all, partly an uncharismatic, full-length version of the Scrat character before each “Ice Age” film. And for this to have any sort-of critical access, I think it’s important that the main protagonist isn’t entirely unlikable.

"We're gonna starve!"

“We’re gonna starve!”

Surly’s personality completely matches the name he’s given; he’s mean and whenever he seems to be opening up, he gets pissed off and pushes the person away. That might be because of vulnerability and the fear of being hurt, but he comes off as a selfish prick and I don’t know why anyone would want to watch any film depicting this character. He’s just uncharismatic and he’s all about himself, it’s just not a fun attitude to watch. Sharing is caring, Surly, you idiot.  Will Arnett’s voice performance is rather bland as him, as if he’s sort-of phoning it in. If you want to experience his voice work, just see his work as Batman in “The Lego Movie” instead. Katherine Heigl is unremarkable as her character Andi. Liam Neeson is okay as Raccoon, the leader of the park animals in New York. Brendan Fraser is trying too hard in a bland sort-of way as Grayson, the squirrel that the parks sees as the hero; and Grayson is too stupid to realize he’s a scaredy cat. Maya Rudolph has an energy in her voice work that brings something partly tolerable to the film. Still not very funny, but not completely awful. She plays a pug owned by the people who own the nut shop.

The film’s animation is the one redeeming quality. Funny thing, it has a look where in the background there are lines that come down and across that look as if the characters are in a dome, like that scene in “Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase” when the world they’re in becomes vibrant and shows the lines around them, that they’re not yet home. If you know what I mean, maybe I’m just seeing things, it’s noticeable (did anyone else see it?) – and it seemed to have a post-production quality of animation, like it was almost completed but not quite, but the filmmakers said anyway, “Good enough, ship it off to theatres.”

The characters are completed, and the backgrounds are pretty nice, but it seems like they forgot to erase the lines in the background. One thing that is strange is the colour choice of the main character; a purple squirrel? Granted, it’s colourful and it’ll catch the kid’s attention, but boy does it not make sense. Maybe he fell into a can with purple paint and it didn’t get the stain out entirely? Maybe he couldn’t hook up with enough squirrel biddies and got the sister version of blue balls? Purple balls? Get it? Oh, there’s a clever animated sequence during the credits featuring the animaetd version of a popular singer in the end credits singing a popular and upbeat song. It confirms the filmmaker’s insecurities with their own film, shoving in a song that doesn’t have much to do with the film, only to convince you that you had one hell of a good time.

By the way, the people who own the nut shop but it for a heist of their own. They’re digging a tunnel in the basement to the bank supposedly nearby, “The Ladykillers”style. They’re the usual stupid henchmen and random boss you see in animated thug movies. There’s one henchy who is all mysterious and cringes when he hears a dog whistle; which is strange because it never gets explained why his hearing is so hyperactive enough to hear it. Anyway, it makes sense that they’d buy a nut shop; because the only people would walk into the nut shop are those who would ask: “Why do you own a store that only sells nuts?” No one’s going to go in there; alternatively they could have just ran a VCR repair shop. The film wouldn’t happen if that were the case, but that’s not such a bad thing. Mostly because this is a really bad movie. The characters are so lame, you’re probably going to root for starvation to win.

Score25/100

The Way Way Back (2013)

The Way, Way BackReleased: July 5, 2013. Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Starring: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette. Runtime: 103 min.

As I’m sure you’ve been able to tell; I love coming-of-age movies. Well, I love movies in general – but I find myself really enjoying movies like these. I think there’s something important about finding one’s place in the world; or even if it just means gaining confidence and growing as a person. The latest movie to the coming-of-age summer movie cannon is “The Way Way Back” helmed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Now, it may seem like I’ve seen Faxon through an unfair eye, mostly because I’ve said “who is surprisingly an Oscar winner” time and time again. Is it unfair that I was surprised to hear he has won an Oscar? I don’t think so. If one only looked at his on-screen filmography prior to this, he’s been in such mediocre hits as “Slackers,” “Club Dread,” “Beerfest,” “Bad Teacher” and “The Slammin’ Salmon.” Now, I don’t think any of those scream, or even whisper, Oscar contenders. He just doesn’t seem like he’d be pinned as an Oscar winner. (By the way, both he and Rash have won their Oscars for co-writing “The Descendants.”)

Both have definitely made a splash in the writing department, and this is no different. They’ve grown from being That One Guy Who Shows Up in the Broken Lizard Movies and the Dean on “Community,” to real above-average filmmakers that I love (but it’s not as if I didn’t like them before). I guess you could say, in my eyes, they’ve come of age in terms of their careers.

The story concerns Duncan (Liam James), a fourteen year-old boy who is dragged to a summer vacation spot with his mother (Toni Collette) and her over-bearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Duncan has a rough time fitting in, but he finds a friend in the manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell) of the Water Wizz water park.

Faxon and Rash design the film like experts. As soon as we’re introduced to the characters, they’re either instantly likeable, or you’ll just as instantly get a bad feeling about them. The only character one will get a sudden bad feeling about is Trent, portrayed by Carell. That’s his purpose. He’s the sort-of character that will be a total dick just because he can. When crappy situations happen, his mindset is to simply forget about them the next day. Carell plays the character well. Take Carell’s Burt Wonderstone and subtract the obnoxious way about him; replace it with the everyday soon-to-be stepfather, and you have the biggest dick in the movie, Trent. He plays a major role in stalling Duncan’s confidence.

Toni Collette’s Pam (Duncan’s mom) is usually likeable. Like most of the adults in the film, they take their kids along with them to this vacation spot. As one character puts it, “it’s Spring Break for adults.” This expresses the selfishness of many adults in the film (save the workers at Water Wizz, but more on that later). They’ll party and have a good time, but they won’t bother to include the children. That is very much the case with Allison Janney’s eccentric performance of Betty, mother of Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), and Peter (River Alexander), where she constantly points out his horrible case of lazy eye. The actress is hard not to love, even when she’s criticizing a character. It’s the way some mothers do, and it’s downright hilarious for the audience.

Of course, there is Duncan. The hero of the film. He has a difficult time feeling he belongs. He’s awkward and shy, which it seems many can be at the age of fourteen. (Like I was.) But he grows as a person throughout the film and it’s a treat to watch. We get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of adolescence through his eyes, and just like the tagline states, “we’ve all been there.” The ugly is, of course, his stepfather. He’s also the bad. The good is Water Wizz water park and Susanna. (A potential love interest of Duncan’s, and she’s older, to boot!)

He meets Rockwell’s Owen, a person who teaches him that it’ll get better and makes him feel welcome. He offers him a job at Water Wizz, and he slowly gets Duncan out of his shell. Owen is the type of person that can make anyone feel welcome. He jokes about everything. He’s the type of person everybody knows. He could be your uncle (my Uncle Danny in my case), a father or a best friend. Sometimes his constant jokery gets in the way of personal interests (mainly Maya Rudolph’s character), but he’s the type of shoulder everybody needs at some point in their lives.

“The Way Way Back” might not pack the largest emotional punch. It didn’t make me cry, though I was close. Perhaps I wasn’t in the crying mood? Compared to the other coming-of-age movies so far this year, there’s more of a punch than “The Kings of Summer,” but less than “Mud.” More than a few scenes in the film pull at the heartstrings, and this is an uplifting and well-acted tale. It’s entertaining, hilarious and very enjoyable, if a little light-hearted at times.

Liam James may not be the strongest performer out of the bunch (who could be against Rockwell, Carell, Collette, Janney, Robb, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet?!), but he has a timid charm about him. He shows promise, especially because his eyes are super expressive. I’ve always been attracted to Robb’s delicate kindness about her, and the characters she portrays. I want to see more of her.

Rash and Faxon show up in supporting turns as employees at the Water Wizz water park. Jim Rash plays a hilarious germaphobe named Lewis; Faxon is another employee named Roddy, master of the holding technique where he asks hot girls to wait to use the slide. These two truly understand what being a teen is like, because, like everyone else, they’ve been there. Faxon and Rash, and Stephen Chbosky (author, writer/director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), may be their generation’s John Hughes. We’ll see in time.

One last thing. There is a concept of going your own way in this film. Characters are taught to not follow patterns and to choose their own path. There’s a point where characters (minor and major) are trying to pass each other in a water slide. Perhaps this is only boys will be boys tom-foolery. Maybe it’s about doing things differently, not following the norm, and making your own path. I’m not certain; it’s ambiguous and that’s the purpose. I am sure, though, that Faxon and Rash have penned a smart coming-of-age dramedy.

Score90/100

Grown Ups 2 (2013)

GROWN UPS 2Release Date: July 12, 2013. Director: Dennis Dugan. Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade. Runtime: 102 min.

The mystery of why Adam Sandler has never previously done a sequel has been solved. “Grown Ups 2” is worst than his average movie, but it’s about on par with “Jack and Jill“. (That’s no compliment if you’ve seen “J&J”.) If Sandler has become one thing lately, it is reliable. We can always rely on him to bring us one of the year’s worst comedies. If anyone was hoping for a Sandler movie game-changer with this one, they’ll only receive something familiar. “Grown Ups” is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I don’t know how anyone could find pleasure in this.

There isn’t any plot. If one has trouble describing the plot of this film’s predecessor in casual conversation, they’ll damn well blow a blood vessel trying to explain this film’s plot. Even the people over at IMDb don’t know what this is about. Even the filmmakers don’t know what this one is about! The IMDb plot is this: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny (Adam Sandler) finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizophrenic bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.

Yup. It’s as stupid as it sounds. It just feels like a bunch of comedy skits thrown together. Just because one’s main cast (Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade) is composed of SNL veterans, does not mean it should feel like a long episode of Saturday Night Live. I have been told that SNL sketches range from bad to good to the occasional great. The sketches here are just plain bad.

This film is at its funniest when Sandler channels mannerisms similar to Billy Madison. It’s also funny when Jon Lovitz shows up as a character that is very similar to the pervert he played in “Little Nicky”. Sandler is showing us that he and his friends can still be funny with their observational humour; so why is there so much god-awful, low-brow humour in here? The good moments are hidden in so much utter dreck, that they are cancelled out. At the somewhat funny jokes later on, I wanted to laugh – but I only could bring myself to smirk slightly. I knew that for that one decent joke, there will be twenty-five pathetic attempts at humour. Seeing Sandler’s comic genius in his recent movies is as rare as seeing the sun on a cloudy day; you might see it once or twice, but then again, your mind is probably just playing tricks on you.

“Grown Ups 2” reaches to the bottom of the barrel for its laughs. There’s many jokes including bodily functions: peeing, pooping, vomiting, masturbation, and a running joke about trying to burp, sneeze and fart simultaneously, coined by Kevin James… I’m not sure why anyone would laugh at it. But then again, some of the people in my audience laughed at the mere sight of the deer in Lenny’s bedroom. (Oh yeah. The thought of a deer being in a bedroom instead of the wild is real hysterical. Since he’s not supposed to be there, it’s an odd occurence that’s supposed to make the audience laugh, apparently!) At least the only recycled joke is someone peeing in the pool and a mist of blue shows up. This time, though, it doesn’t make much sense because 1) it’s a myth, and 2) if there was such a chemical, there’s really no need to put it one’s own private pool.

There are a lot of visual gags to “Grown Ups 2”. Markus has a thirteen year-old son (the terrible Alexander Ludwig) who has a beard. The joke seems to be that Ludwig is supposed to be terrible as a 21-year-old playing a 13-year-old; but there isn’t anything funny going on there. He has a bunch of “tattoos” that are practically permanent marker. It’s ridiculous. I’ll have an easier time believing that Maggie Grace can convincingly play an eighteen year-old. There’s also a main gag where the family of Malcolm (Tim Meadows) is all bald. Everyone is losing their hair. His wife and son have noses that look like they’re made out of Play Doh. I get it. They’re funny looking. They say “Whaaaaat?” whenever they get offended. It’s supposed to be funny. But nothing about them is funny. The joke is rather excruciating.

Since there are so many celeb cameos here, it makes me believe Sandler thinks featuring these celebrities in his movie is a punchline. There are many familiar faces; his buddies Nick Swardson and Peter Dante show up. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THESE CAMEOS HAVE BEEN IN EVERY TV SPOT.) Shaquille O’Neal has an extended cameo. Will Forte, Andy Samberg and Taran Killam, among others, wash Lamansoff’s car, in a scene where you’ll just want to look away. To the sound of Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie”, no less. Taylor Lautner shows up as an annoying Frat boy who barks, flips around, and has a stupid handshake with Milo Ventimiglia. (Even though he’s good on TV’s “Heroes”, I’ve grown to hate him after seeing him here and in “That’s My Boy“.) (END OF MINOR SPOILERS.) Sorry, Sandler, this won’t make many of us laugh. These people are celebrities. Celebrities are in movies, because they’re famous. It’s nothing new.

There is a line of stupidity movies just cannot cross. “Grown Ups 2” crosses it, and then some. I like stupid comedy. You’ll find a lot of stupidity going on in this god-awful film, but only a limited amount of comedy. Sandler’s latest is the poster child for stupid comedies. It begins with a deer pissing on Adam Sandler and ends with a seriously dumb bodily function joke. If that sounds like something you’d find hysterical; well, then, you might have to re-evaluate your taste in movies.

Score: 12/100

I do usually like Adam SandlerI’m considering watching all of Adam Sandler’s movies, and re-watch the ones I can stand to watch again, and review them. In the meantime, here are my reviews of some Adam Sandler films that have received good scores: 50 First Dates” (2004), “Billy Madison” (1995).

Grown Ups (2010)

Grown UpsRelease Date: June 25, 2010Director: Denis DuganStars: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Kevin JamesRuntime: 102 min.

“Grown Ups” doesn’t have the strongest plot; or any evident plotline, for that matter. It’s really just a movie about… Five guys, who sound like they want to grow up, but they’re really just big kids at heart. They’re reuniting after thirty years because of the death of their elementary school basketball coach. They’re lifelong friends. Sandler plays the big-time Hollywood agent, Lenny; Rob Schneider plays Rob Hillard who has an appreciation of ladies in their mid-70s; Kevin James plays Eric Lamonsoff, who has a four-year old who still breast feeds, and a daughter with anger issues; Chris Rock is Kurt McKenzie, the nice husband with a nagging wife; and David Spade is the bachelor, Marcus Higgins. The female actresses are decent, mostly just Salma Hayek and Maya Rudolph. The kids are annoying.

No matter how many times you might watch this movie, you’ll only remember the names of Marcus, Lenny and Lamonsoff. There’s very little character development and plot. They’re mostly just comedians hanging around. There’s no focus on plot or characters, because it just isn’t so important to Sandler. Since the plotline isn’t strong, it honestly feels like it could end at any point. I can forgive that a bit more than other movies, though, because at least it doesn’t fail in every aspect. It is a funny movie. There’s chuckles throughout, and two scenes that are hilarious. Most of the humour is hit-and-miss, however, because the majority of the jokes are predictable. And the balance of comedic talent and big laughs is uneven. The direction is also pretty bad. It feels as if Dennis Dugan wasn’t on set for a week.

This is mostly just a forgettable comedy that doesn’t have a particularly good plot. It’s decent background noise, regardless. This still gets a pass.

Score60/100

Note: As much as this is a guilty pleasure of mine, I don’t think upcoming sequel looks very funny at all. I laugh once during the trailer. 

Bridesmaids (2011)

BridesmaidsRelease Date: May 13, 2011Director: Paul FeigStars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose ByrneRuntime: 125 min.

This film is usually very, very funny and features a breakout role from the charismatic Melissa McCarthy. However, I think it pans out like a traditional romantic comedy, with room for originality. Melissa McCarthy and other select characters really make the film. Honestly, I don’t like how McCarthy got so much recognition for this role. Let me explain. She’s hilarious in this, but I think this has restricted to her to dirty and crude roles in the cinema universe. She’s still hilarious, but I just wish she would be able to play more tame comedy roles, or not play such dirty characters, because she’s really quite pretty. She still is a great screen presence, but this type of character might get old really quickly. Anyway, it’s usually extremely funny, but I get bored when it’s not being funny. The main conflict between Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne’s characters becomes tedious to me. And that’s what drives the film, so that’s a problem… The runtime is just exhausting. I really think 50/50 should have received the Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards instead of this. I respect this for what it tries to be, and I do laugh a lot when I’m in the mood for it. I might re-watch it, take notes of when the funniest jokes are, and just watch those scenes.

Score69/100