CHIPS happens when an ex-X-Games star with a painkiller habit gets loose in California with a police badge and a sex addicted undercover Fed.
No wonder, “CHIPS”, short for California Highway Patrol, opens with a disclaimer: “This film is not endorsed by the California Highway Patrol. At all.”
And the audience howled with laughter right away.
The stars of the action-comedy – inexperienced rookie Jon Baker (Dax Shepard, who also wrote the screenplay), a beaten-up former pro motorbiker trying to put his life and marriage back together, with cocky pro partner Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña), had everyone in stiches as they investigated a multi-million dollar heist.
“This is about two very different guys with vastly different agendas and skill sets, who have to learn how to ride together, pick up the slack for each other and trust each other with their lives,” Dax explained.
“It also has nudity—though granted, mostly of me—and epic chases, destruction, and explosions. I don’t think we went more than three days on this movie without blowing something up. The action is real, the jumps are real and the fights are almost real.”
In other words, this ain’t your parents’ “CHIPS”, he warned.
Jon’s a mess. But, fueled by optimism, prescription meds and a stubborn desire to make it good in CHP to win back his ex-wife, he’s ready to face any challenge or humiliation with everything he’s got. For now, that means playing it by the book, keeping his nose clean and writing lots of tickets. Just one problem: he’s stuck on day one with a take-charge partner who doesn’t give a damn about any of that.
Ponch is actually Miami FBI agent Castillo, a guy with a big success rate and the swagger to match. He also has a pathological weakness for women, especially women in yoga pants, which is a much bigger problem now that has to straddle a bike every day. Perpetually cocked and locked, he’s in L.A. undercover to smoke out a dirty-cop robbery ring inside the CHP.
Of course, Jon doesn’t know this up front, including the fact that he was picked as Ponch’s partner only because they figured he was too green to ask questions. Or get in the way.
“It’s incredibly funny and wall-to-wall action,” says Producer Andrew Panay. “The comedy is edgy and the action is a little throwback because it’s not a lot of visual effects. We did most of the stunts in-camera and Dax does a lot of his own stunts so it feels authentic.”
It helped that Dax wrote about something he loves—motorcycles—and that he knew the players.
“I started this project knowing Michael and I were Ponch and Jon, so I could play to our strengths. A lot of times you’re writing in a vacuum because you don’t know the cast, but I could be more specific here. My passion is motorcycles and cars, so I knew we’d be doing a lot of riding. That gave me the freedom to write scenes where we’re talking trash over a chase. All of that definitely informed the kind of story I was going to tell.”
Astoundingly, he showcased a range of stunts with high-performance machines.
“I wanted great motorcycle action from a variety of disciplines, so we have motocross-style stunts, road race stunts, drifting, a lot of different things. We needed bikes that could jump and corner tight with amazing speed and braking, bikes that could handle stairs. But I couldn’t do those things on stock CHP bikes because the logic wouldn’t hold up. The bad guys could have whatever they wanted and that was a completely different vibe but I had to figure out how to get Jon and Ponch onto cool motorcycles to catch up with them. That introduced the premise of Ponch being undercover FBI.”
The writer/director also took a page from his own life by giving Jon the need to figure out what makes people tick. “Jon’s always trying to understand why he does what he does. I’m very much interested in what drives me, or what drives other people, so that became a part of the character.”
That translates into Jon trying to analyze his hug-averse partner and figure out why Ponch requires so much “alone time” in the bathroom several times a day.
A running joke in the film, Jon’s touchy-feely observations contrast with Ponch’s more down-and-dirty commentary, like the way he has to enlighten his out-of-circulation partner on the current sexual scene—namely certain back door maneuvers Jon had no idea had gone mainstream.
Either way, what it boils down to is them being themselves. And being guys.
“Ponch and Jon come from opposite directions on so many things,” producer Ravi Mehta acknowledged. “Not only tight-lipped versus TMI, but Jon’s a stickler for the rules and Ponch likes to fly by the seat of his pants, so they start out not clicking at all. But once they’re through fighting it, and let their guards down, they actually feed off of how different they are. That’s when it becomes more of a bromance and a true partnership.”
“So much of the story is about their dynamics,” Michael stressed. “Ponch is very logical and focused on the present, and Jon is more in tune with his feelings and about fixing his marriage, like he’s always ‘three beers too deep’ with the intimacy.”
To his credit, Ponch comes to grudgingly acknowledge Jon’s instincts as a detective, not to mention his insane skills on two wheels. As they continue to work together, with all the minute-by-minute sacrifices and real heroism that entails, they begin to understand more about each other.
“Ponch starts to meet Jon in the middle and maybe even attempt a more emotional point of view, and it’s funny to watch him try out this completely unfamiliar approach,” he adds.
To top it all, Dax kept the action as real as possible.
“That was our whole approach. The most we did digitally was to swap out a bike, so generally, if you see something happening on screen, it happened. Everything the motorcycles do in this movie was actually done by someone. And as much as I could put myself or Michael into it, I would. For example, we got Michael to do his own burnout in a scene and it got a fantastic reaction from him.”
They had 100 stunt performers and extras on the beach, with bikes jumping into the sand, going through volleyball nets and heading up a sand dune.
“As Jon and the bad guy hit the berm, the bad guy is in front and spins a 180 in mid air, then shoots at Jon’s leg. That’s X-Games gold medalist Lance Coury. It’s a 75-foot jump. When you see the bike spin around it’s what they call a turndown, but he’s doing it one-handed, which he’d never done before,” says stunt performer Steve De Castro.
“Then following him over the gap is Dave Castillo, an AMA pro rider who won the Motocross 500. For them to jump 75 feet and so close to each other, with Lance turning the bike 180 degrees, it’s just incredible.”
Production closed the 4th Street Bridge, Los Angeles, for the melee and mash-up between the Hummer and the bulky motorhome. “Dax wanted to do it practically so we drove a stock H1 Hummer straight through a stock RV at 45 miles an hour,” he added.
“It was crazy. I’ve lived in L.A. for 20 years and I’ve driven across that bridge a thousand times. To have it as a playground for two straight days to demolish motorhomes and crash motorcycles was pretty amazing,” Dax disclosed.
“Many times, I thought, ‘I can’t believe we are allowed to do this.’ We owned a whole exit off the 210 Freeway to blow up a propane tank with helicopters circling and a fireball nine stories high. There are actual cops watching you peel out and do donuts and they’re giving you the thumbs up, which is not a side of law enforcement you usually get to see.”
“A couple of times, Dax wanted to do a stunt but De Castro said, ‘No, you’re not doing that,’” Michael disclosed. “That’s Steve’s job. He makes it fun but safe. But with a film like this, you really get psyched up to be part of the action.”
But for all the story’s high-octane action, one stunt I won’t forget was the bath tub scene.
After a physically taxing day, Jon wakes up unable to move his wrecked body or reach his meds. He needs a therapeutic soak and calls on a very reluctant Ponch for help.
Ponch baby-lifts his naked partner, trips, face-plants on Jon’s crotch and catapults him in the tub.
“I had to get into pretty good shape for that so I could do all my nude stuff on week one then resume eating what I wanted for the rest of the shoot,” Dax admitted. “I had a harness and a cable, and I was on a ratchet, so, as soon as he lets go they hit the hammer and I just flew into the wall. It also spun me, so I hit the wall and then went upside down into the tub, naked, in front of my crew who just met me two days before.”
“I remember a fair amount of laughter that day,” says Michael. Obviously, it was an understatement.
“What I like best about it is the old-school action, which we put together with a lot of love,” Dax concluded. “Not to mention great explosions, amazing stunts and lots of comedy. I hope it’s as much fun for audiences as it was for us making it.”