Hardcore “CHiPs” fans hate it, and the real California Highway Patrol seems not quite sure what to make of it.
But Larry Wilcox, who rode his motorcycle to everlasting fame in the old “CHiPs” TV series, says that for now, he’ll give the benefit of the doubt to “CHIPS,” the forthcoming film based loosely — very loosely — on the show that made him and Erik Estrada two of the biggest stars of the 1970s and early ’80s.
“I have not seen the film, but the trailers looked like a soft-porn version of ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ ” Wilcox said recently. “However, I hear the actors are both very talented and funny, so maybe it all works.” (The film was not shown in advance to critics.)
Fans of the original “CHiPs,” still widely seen in reruns and on DVD, are far less forgiving. They’ve been posting angry messages all over the internet since the first trailers for the R-rated action comedy emerged, calling it garbage and disrespectful to police officers everywhere.
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In a lengthy “open letter” to Dax Shepard, Sue Walsh of New York accuses the film’s writer, director and co-star of mocking the original show with a ridiculous remake filled with nudity, penis jokes and raunchy bathroom humor. (She left out big-breasted women, but they’re in there, too.)
“ ‘CHiPs’ was not just a ’70s cop show. It wasn’t Shakespeare, no, but it did and does mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people,” said Walsh, who is organizing a 40th anniversary reunion of the show this fall that most of the original cast is expected to attend.
Shepard explains: “I generally like to see R-rated movies, and I think you should make what you want to consume, even though it’s really tempting to make something you think people want to see.
“I could have never gone to a studio and said, ‘Hey here’s this original comedy called ‘Bonkers for Motorcycles’ and it’s me and Michael Pena and we need $25 million.’ They would have never done it. I knew if I were going to get any movie made it was going to have to be within a brand or a property that provided the studio with some insurance. And then I get to make a completely original movie that just has the known title in it.”
To understand why fans are so upset, one must remember what a gentle, family-oriented show “CHiPs” was.
CHP Sgt. Jon Baker (played by Wilcox) and his partner, Estrada’s Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, were hunky young straight-arrow cops cruising sun-splashed, surprisingly uncrowded L.A. freeways on their motorcycles when not cracking jokes or flirting harmlessly with cute female sheriff’s deputies.
To the thump of a persistent disco track, Baker and Ponch kept busy rescuing people from cars, occasionally solving folks’ personal problems and frequently chasing down miscreants before carting them off to jail without ever drawing their weapons.
“I know that there are people that grew up watching ‘CHiPs’ and that was part of the reason they decided to join the department,” said CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader. “I watched it when I was growing up.”
In the film version, however, Shepard’s and Michael Pena’s Baker and Ponch are anything but straight arrows. They accidentally destroy vehicles, cause fiery crashes, blow stuff up and sometimes shoot the wrong people.
“I understand it’s a broad comedy,” said Clader, adding she hasn’t seen the film and won’t offer an opinion on the trailer.
She said the CHP did grant the producers some technical assistance, for which the agency was reimbursed. But there’s also this disclaimer at the beginning of “CHIPS”: “This film is not endorsed by the California Highway Patrol. At all.” And sharp-eyed fans will notice the title punctuation of “CHIPS” was changed from the original “CHiPs,” further distancing the film from the department.
Estrada, who has a cameo, did not respond to multiple phone and email messages. But in a video clip from a recent premiere, he described it as “a movie you have to view with your adult sense of humor.”
As for Wilcox, he says he’ll probably see it — eventually.
“I think I will wait for the video,” he added.
Includes reporting by The AP’s Lindsey Bahr.