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Attention all units: the lights are flashing, the bikes are roaring and after 15 years, there’a a lot more freeway to patrol! But there’s not so much interstate that California Highway Patrolmen Ponch and Jon can’t cover it when they again go wherever the rubber meets the road in CHiPs ’99. Larry Wilcox returns as straight-arrow officer Jon Baker and Erik Estrada reprises his role as free-spirited Frank “Ponch” Poncherello in this 15-year reunion that adds a ‘90s sensibility to the can’t-miss elements that made the 1977-83 CHiPs TV series a fan-pleasing success: cool motorcycles, freewheeling fun and widespread disregard for the California traffic code. This time, that disregard turns dangerous. Ponch and Jon confront an automobile hijacking ring that may be the ultimate in road rage!
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Returning (and co-producing) are fifty-year olds Larry Wilcox (as Capt. Jon Baker) and Erik Estrada (as newly un-retired Officer Frank 'Ponch' Poncherello). Now a "rusty, old captain," Jon is married to Sandy, a pretty fellow CHIP, while Ponch is a reclusive widower with a young son, Frank Jr. No matter their real life differences, Wilcox and Estrada still have plenty of on-screen magic, especially as the aging ex-partners finally have a tense blow-up over Ponch's macho, "hot-dogging" antics. It makes one wonder where the simmering personality strife between Ponch & Jon ends and that of Estrada & Wilcox begins ... it's believable enough. Following the traditional series formula, the duo again split up the heroics, as the wild finale offers one of Jon's finest moments ... desperately risking his life in battle atop a speeding tour bus, no less! What I liked most about Jon & Ponch's interaction here is their poignant handshake ... it is a classy gesture at the end, as if the actors, too, have finally declared a truce. Perhaps it is most indicative that Jon quietly enters after Ponch and then exits before him, as if Wilcox is graciously deferring to Estrada's popularity in making CHIPS such a timeless pop culture hit.
Also returning is Robert Pine (as now-CHP Commissioner Joe Getraer), whose terrific slow burn over Ponch's return is priceless. Paul Linke (as Det. Grossman), Brodie Greer (as Officer Baricza), and Bruce Penhall (as Sgt. Nelson) appear in extended cameos, though they have far too little to do. The same applies to Stacie Randall and Michael Vira, the new actors portraying Jon's wife and Ponch's son, as both of them do some nice work in a few minutes. Instead, CHIPS '99 probably gives too much screen time to young guns David Ramsey (as tactful Officer McFall) and Paul Korver (as smarmy Officer Roulette). Ramsey's understated work is solid, but Korver's stuck-up Roulette resembles a cross between Chris O'Donnell's Dick Grayson/Robin from the 1990's BATMAN movies and Val Kilmer's "Ice" from TOP GUN. An inevitable rivalry between a wily, old school legend like Ponch and the swaggering Roulette should have added to the fun, but their instant feud grows old fast.
Something else I noticed re: CHIPS '99 is how it revisits the old series' history of campy celebrity cameos in spite of its new emphasis on guns, cheesy stunts, and muscle cars. In addition to rather pointless cameos by producer-director Garry Marshall and late producer-writer Stephen J. Cannell, there is a comedy relief segment featuring Judge Judy and attorney Johnny Cochran. Even though it was meant as a spoof on court reality TV shows, I'd recommend a quick fast-forward here, as this courtroom scene proves just simply ludicrous. I can't say this hokey gag routine is the script's sole problem, as the film's dialogue suffers some tired, almost awkward lapses. The good news is that Estrada, Wilcox, and Pine's inspired efforts, mixed with the series' genuine nostalgia, overcome this reunion movie's weaknesses easily enough. Not to mention hearing the familiar theme music again (given a contemporary, upbeat remix by musician Stacy Widelitz) is a real treat.
Overall, CHIPS '99 should satisfy its long-time fans, and youngsters will likely enjoy its appeal. No matter how often the movie revs the throttle favoring flash and grittiness over an improved script, CHIPS '99 remains a most entertaining, nostalgic joyride.
Rating: a fun 4/5 stars. It's appropriate for ages 8 and up.
P.S. The only DVD extra is the trailer.
I played this in my 4k BluRay player and made this movie look REALLY nice.
It's funny how most of the plot derives from the pilot episode of the series.
If you're a ChiPs fan....you MUST have this video.
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