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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American Hustle (2013)

Am hustleReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: David O. Russell. Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Runtime: 138 min.

With “American Hustle,” David O. Russell creates a heavily stylish look at the lives of con men and an FBI agent trying to reduce corruption in late 1970’s New Jersey; but ridding the city of corruption might not be so easy when one is working so closely with con men. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his seductive mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) make their living by selling fake reproductions of great art, and getting checks from people who give them a deposit of $5, 000 who think they will receive $50, 000 in return because Sydney creates an alias (Lady Edith Greensley) where she has connections to British banking.

When the pair gets caught by the Feds, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) says they will get out of it if they help him bring down some powerful people in the government in New Jersey, such as Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The powerful folk can be tempted by the funding to rebuild Atlantic City. The con artists are led into this world of powerbrokers and mafia that is dangerous, but enchanting. One of the only people who can jeopardize the whole operation is Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), who doesn’t appreciate her husband having a so-called whore on the side.

This world of powerbrokers and mafia is only enchanting to me because of the style and the cast. Director Russell creates quite the vision with the help of cool hairstyles (maybe not Irving’s combover), tans and cleavage. Russell is a great director, but I do like his last outing “Silver Linings Playbook” a lot better than this. The cast helps keep audience members interested because they’re great screen presences. The plot itself is slowly-paced some of the time, where I just thought it would be a good place to get to the point and bust these baddies already. But no, Richie keeps wanting more people to take down. For some of it, the actors on-screen are some of the only aspects that keep this from being a snoozefest. The  character developments are interesting, and I like how unpredictable working with career liars can be.

I like the tension between Irving and Richie; it gets created by Richie putting moves on Sydney, who Richie thinks is actually named Edith – her alias. Richie is a bit of a crazy character, who gets in over his head a bit often, and his behaviour might just be better suited for a film like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Bradley Cooper is showing more and more versatility with each role, so that’s really great. He’s worthy of the Academy award nomination with this performance, but this isn’t winning material. The only other character who might be crazier than him is Irving’s wife Rosalyn. Jennifer Lawrence fits this character because she makes a lot of different kind-of character choices, so the two unpredictable personalities fit. Lawrence is funny as the character, when she consistently starts fires – but more than a bit odd for me when she’s talking about how the best nail polish smells great but has a hint of a garbage smell.

The character dynamic between Irving and Rosalyn is interesting because she doesn’t want to divorce him because no one in her family has been divorced before, and Irving doesn’t want to divorce her because he adopted her son. I think Rosalyn’s reasoning is a bit more immature, so she should just take her gross-smelling nail polish and hop on someone else’s dingaling; because they’d both be happier. Irving is trapped in this situation, especially when Sydney would just much rather have him all to herself and get Rosalyn out of the picture entirely.

Amy Adams is just great as her character, one who is caught so in the lies that she seems to get lost in her character of Edith; and she gets to sport a great British accent, so that’s fun. I think her true motivations are love, freedom and money. She’s the eye candy for Richie, and there’s so much tension in her and Irving’s relationship because of that. Christian Bale is also great as his character, one who seems honest to his friends and seems like a kind-enough con man. So as you can see, this cast is pretty great. A comment on the only main cast member who didn’t receive an Oscar nomination: Jeremy Renner’s character is easily the most noble of them all, because whatever he does is either for his family or New Jersey.

There seems to be an ongoing theme of how everybody has to cheat and lie alittle to get their way. There’s also an interesting theme of reinvention. These characters get so into the role they’re playing that they seem like they might eventually lose sight of themselves. Maybe they like the role they’re playing more than they like their actual self. If you think about it, actors aren’t so different from these con men.

Of course, actors actually make an honest wage while playing a role – but they reinvent themselves to make others believe the role. That’s what I think great acting is, where you, as the audience member, simply believes the actor is the character they’re playing. That’s why I don’t really like reading all those tabloid magazines and gossip about the actor, so I can more easily believe that they’re really character they’re playing. (I also don’t read them because I don’t think they’re interesting at all.)

I think method acting really utilizes that, when even the actor changes their appearance to fit the character – that’s why I like Christian Bale a lot. He goes through the craziest transformations, like when he was as skinny as a pterodactyl in “The Machinist” and then bulked back up for “Batman Begins.” Now he has a big belly and a combover for this film. I really appreciate when people go so far for their art – as long as they don’t do it too dangerously, because then they might not be around to make enjoyable films much longer.

Score: 77/100

Gangster Squad (2013)

Gangster SquadGangster Squad

Release Date: January 11, 2013

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: No names. No badges. No mercy.

This follows the true story of a crew of police officers who mean to take down a ruthless mob boss, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who runs 1949 Los Angeles.

This certain crew is comprised of: Its leader, Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), knife-thrower Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), the best gunslinger in L.A., Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), his mentee, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) and the brain, Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi). They’re all up against the big old Micky Cohen and collection of bought cops.

Mickey Cohen does not have a soul. He’s ruthless, and he would rip apart a man with two cars and then feed him to the dogs. He wears an ugly grimace and he has some ridiculous lines of dialogue that don’t make a lot of sense. That’s practically the job qualities someone must have to be a gangster.

He is well-acted by Sean Penn, and he is exactly as cartoonish and over-the-top as one would think a power-hungry gangster would be. That’s practically all the characterization done for him.

The other characters are only slightly characterized, but they are well-acted by the attractive and talented cast. Jerry is established as a man who will whatever he must, as long as he protects the people he loves. This is expressed for his caring for Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), a woman who wanted to be a star but ended up with Mickey Cohen. Jerry’s initial fuel to join the squad is the death of a young boy trying to make a dollar on the street when Cohen ordered his men to shoot an enemy of him. The only other really characterized characters are John O’Mara and Conway Keeler, and they are both established as family men. These are the only characters whose home lives get shown, the others might as well just kill people all the time.

There’s a fair deal of violence and exhilarating action but it isn’t non-stop. It takes a break to let us know what’s going on and build the storyline. This makes the film both dramatic, filled with crime and very fun. While the storyline does not challenge its audience on an intellectual level on any sort, it is present. It’s simply a group of cops who work both sides of the law against a ruthless mob boss. Their killings is necessary, however. Cohen’s empire is very strong, and they must collapse the metaphorical wall. Whilst it doesn’t make the audience think, it is an extremely entertaining and usually enthralling experience, nonetheless.

It is sort-of unrealistic at times, to a point where I had to remind myself this is a gangster film and not an episode of The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show where Wile E. Coyote tries to catch that pesky Roadrunner. This time Wile (multiplied by six) being the protagonist(s) and Roadrunner (Cohen) being the antagonist. It’s a fight of power between the two, in the great, stylized city of Los Angeles. However, only had to remind myself of this once or twice. Speaking of the style, this film very much expresses the glamour present in late 1940s L.A., where everyone danced, showed skin and had extravagent dresses for the ladies (and cross-dressers, I guess) and suave suits for the men. It is also highlighted by the people’s slang, and the usually funny humour that incorporates itself into the screenplay. When the jokes did show up, though, I had to question if it was intentional or unintentional. The attempt at juggling both a serious crime drama and a fun sort-of spoof is rarely a good end product.

This isn’t as great as everyone thought it would be, but it is fairly satisfying. However, as far as true stories go, it isn’t anything special to bite on. One must work with what they get, right?

In a nutshell: Gangster Squad is a violent, extremely entertaining gangster film that promises action and beauty, and it delivers. While this doesn’t challenge intellectually, it’s fun but is sometimes as unrealistic as a Looney Tunes cartoon. It isn’t amazing or extremely memorable, but it’s decent enough and I can forgive and forget Ruben Fleischer for his former sin of 30 Minutes or Less. Oh, and Emma, next time show more skin (please) because your legs and back just aren’t enough.

63/100

End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch

Release Date: September 21, 2012

Director: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick

Runtime: 109 min

Tagline: Watch your six, September 21

This follows the relationship of Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, who are two best friend police officers. Soon enough, the two young officers are marked for death once they seize a small cache of money and firearms by a notorious cartel, all during a seemingly routine traffic stop.

Writer/director David Ayer brings us some of his best work since 2001’s Training Day. He once again took both good actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, and made those guys great ones. There’s something about independent films, or found footage films like this, that make the actors’ performances so genuine. The characters of Brian and Mike are so real, because they love like real people, laugh like real people, and get scared like real people. Their characters feel so real, that, they could very well be sitting in the theatre with you. They could also very well be eating popcorn out of your bag. Even though, you would probably know if they were doing that. If you didn’t know they were, you may very well be blind or have a mental retardation of sorts.

You may want to not know a whole lot of the plot going into this, because it has a slower-than-traditional pace for such a film, because it didn’t really feel like it got into the heart of the plot until at least the first hour-mark. That’s at least when they physically find the coveted cache of cha-ching and AK-47’s like the one you see Peña holding in the film’s poster. Even though it takes so long to get to the beating heart of the plot, you probably won’t mind. There’s just a lot of emotional, funny, exhilirating content to keep you intrigued and going the whole way. The most exhilirating moments are when they are on duty and when they get to a crime scene, which is a vast majority of the flick; and the last twenty minutes. The ending does feel abrupt, but it still does leave a smile on one’s face, so you probably won’t feel deprived of a great ending. The whole feature is superbly written.

You can tell that it’s found-footage by the first camera shot from the windshield of the car during that car chase which makes it feel like they’re in a good game of Need for Speed or Grand Theft Auto. Also, there are some nice gun-point views, to make it seem like they’re going to shoot bad guys in a game of Call of Duty. If any film deserves to be found footage other than a low-budget horror, it’s this. Yeah, move over Project X, you sucked. If it wasn’t found footage, their characters may not have felt so real. It feels like a lower budget, and the director certainly didn’t say, “Okay, guys. Act like stupid Hollywood stars, and I’ll give you a nice paycheck.” Other great performers in here are America Fererra (even though her role is petite), Anna Kendrick and Natalie Martinez.

End of Watch does for cops what Ladder 49 did for fire fighters, but it’s about twenty-six times better. It’s told to us smartly, and isn’t dumbed down for a purely Hollywood audience. It shows the dangers of the job of being an officer, the obstacles they must go through to protect us, some stress the family members must go through each day, and the general, very real lives, of the officers involved.

Watch is superbly written, has a list of great performances, and carries itself quite well. Some may say the ending was quite abrupt, and in ways it may have been, but for the majority would be satisfied by the ending. It ends off on a good note, and the finished product is generally impressive.

80/100

World Trade Center – A film review by Daniel Prinn – In memory of 9/11 and those who died that day.

World Trade Center

Release Date: August 9, 2006

Director: Oliver Stone

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello

Runtime: 129 min

Tagline: A True Story of Courage and Survival

 World Trade Center follows the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 9, 2001; and the two men (John McLoughlin [Nicolas Cage] and Will Jimeno [Michael Peña]) from the Port Authority Police Department who got trapped under rubble while trying to rescue any survivors. Whilst being trapped, their families (John’s wife is played by Maria Bello; and Will’s by Maggie Gyllenhaal) are in separate towns and the effects these events have on them are shown.

It isn’t a film that I loved because of its slow-pacing, but it is a great triumphant true story filled with powerful emotional content. The performances are also very good, they all play their parts well. Though, there is just a bit too much going on here. There are the multiple subplots with it going from McLoughlin and Jimeno stuck underneath the rubble; to the emotional wrecks that are the McLoughlin and the Jimeno families.

The film is full of hope and seems like a solid examination of what happened on that day. I do prefer this over United 93, as this is all very interesting and has some great scenes; but is a bit forgettable for an Oliver Stone picture and has its fair share of boring sequences.

For a film that depicts that event, it’s great, and for a biography it’s also pretty great. It’s a film that knows its purpose, to raise awareness of a story of hope depicting two police officers’ will to survive.

It’s a pretty interesting experience, but not thoroughly entertaining. Check it out if you like history flicks and great stories of survival.

70/100

Tower Heist – A film review by Daniel Prinn – A sort of poor comedy but a decent crime film.

Tower Heist

Release Date: November 4, 2011

Director: Brett Ratner

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck

Runtime: 104 min

Tagline: Ordinary guys. An extraordinary robbery.

Unfortunately, [Tower Heist] is a bit too average and not as funny as one should expect.

After a group of hotel employees find out they have fallen victims to a very rich man’s Ponzi scheme, Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller) gathers a criminal, a hotel guest and former employees to get back at this man. They conspire to rob the man of all of the money he has stolen, which is in the penthouse suite of his very tall hotel. What a very straightforward title.

It’s just very average comedy schlock, if you can call it comedy because I can hardly remember laughing-out-loud at any jokes that were told, nor can I remember which jokes were told. I may have chuckled quite a bit though. If you think of it as more of a crime film with comedic elements, maybe you’ll like it more.

Also, it’s supposed to be a comedy with action and crime; I see the crime here, but the action sequences are a smidge boring and predictable. You want to root for the guys to get the job done and get their money back, but it really isn’t anything that has to be seen. The characters are generally likeable, well except for Shaw of course.

The film has a really nice ensemble cast, and the plot’s decent but there could have been more laughs. The film starts off okay, but the pacing is off and it takes way  too long to actually get to the heist.

The film stars some great drama/comedy actors like Casey Affleck and Gabourey Sidibe from Precious, and also Alan Alda, and good comedy actors like Ben Stiller, Michael Peňa and Téa Leoni, to great comedic presences like early Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick.

Still, it’s nothing I overly regret seeing but nothing I’d really run back to soon. But generally, it’s a comedy that most teenagers will enjoy (and I did on a moderate level) but it could have been much better.

63/100