Ten years ago, if somebody said they were rebooting the late ’70s/early ’80s TV series “CHiPs” — which displayed motorcycle cops in all of their beige-uniformed glory — into an action-comedy blockbuster movie, you might have laughed at them. Anyone who’s seen a rerun of “CHiPs” knows just how dated the concept and series are. Making it work for a modern audience would have seemed like a hefty task to take on.
Then, it started happening. In 2010, “The A-Team” starring Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper hit theaters. Meanwhile, 2012 saw a big-screen version of “21 Jump Street” debut — launching a franchise, and giving Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum the chance to shine. Those franchises and many others that followed showed that there’s money in reworking nostalgia action stories for modern audiences, just as movies from that time and category are moving into television: “MacGyver,” “Lethal Weapon,” and most recently “Taken” are all proving that producers are willing to take a chance on translating one kind of property into the other.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that a “CHiPs” movie has been made. After all, it’s cops catching bad guys on motorcycles. What isn’t to love? To be honest though, “CHiPs” wasn’t just about the bikes, the cops or the crooks. It was a story about the brotherly love between two partners, who were there for each other through thick and thin. Say what you will about how dated the “CHiPs” series seems — but the respect and trust officers Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada) share was the real driving force.
Thankfully, that relationship remains intact with the “CHiPs” film currently in production. During a visit to the set in Palmdale, CA, we got a chance to hear writer, director and star Dax Shepard elaborate.
“I believe if you actually tried to isolate what was so appealing about the show, especially on a global level, it was two buddies,” Shepard, a self-professed superfan of the original series, explains in his trailer between takes. Of course, that’s not the only thing his vision brought to the movie. “Really the only thing we’re kind of faithful to is we blow s**t up without almost any reason,” he admits. “If you open your door and slam it too hard, your car might blow up.”
Shepard isn’t lying. His trailer itself is located next to a building they had just blown up the day before, charred wood strewn everywhere.
Still, while he may be having fun riding bikes and blowing things up with co-star Michael Pena — the Ponch to his Jon — the actor is careful to make sure his movie isn’t disrespectful to the series it’s based on: After all, that’s what makes these sort of things work.
The aforementioned “21 Jump Street” and “A-Team,” for instance, pay their respects to the original shows, while making them friendly to a modern audience expecting raunchier humor and more intense action sequences. Shepard knows this might rub certain fans of the original the wrong way. In his mind though, this movie isn’t necessarily for them. Instead, it’s for those that maybe have never seen an episode of “CHiPs.”
“I would say that a good comparison, though I don’t want anyone to think in a million years that I’m Christopher Nolan, but I would say in a tonal shift it’s the difference between ‘Batman’ the TV series, which I loved, and ‘The Dark Knight,'” he explains. “Not that our movie’s that heavy, but — if you like the TV show, you should keep watching the TV show! If you want to see something different, that’s what this movie is.”
And different is exactly what the audience demands in 2017. At least, a negotiable amount of different. Reboots, reimaginings and sequels are nothing new, and for some time they’re increasingly the norm. The modern TV landscape is even dipping into more recent franchises, like “24” and “Prison Break.” While they all share common ground with the properties they’re based on, regardless of age, they’ve also evolved.
“24: Legacy” has gotten rid of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in favor of the younger and less damaged Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), whereas FOX’s “Lethal Weapon” adaptation has ditched some of the slapstick humor for a harder-edged look at Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford) and his suicidal thoughts, alcoholism and grief.
Even with the changes though, these reboots are unabashedly recognizable as connected to the originals — and for Shepard, “CHiPs” will be no different.
“California is still a huge star of our movie, and the motorcycles are still the star of the movie… Jon and Ponch are still buddies,” he says excitedly. “So weirdly, even though it’s tonally different, I think the appealing factors of the series are still the appealing factors of the movie.” It just happens to have a bunch more penis jokes and naked women.
“CHiPs” is due in theaters Mar. 24, and boasts a cast including Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Brody and Maya Rudolph, as well as Shepard’s wife Kristen Bell and Ryan Hansen from “Veronica Mars.” The television show is not currently streaming, although seasons are available via Netflix DVD.