There’s a trope in Hollywood known as the “Wunza Plot,” in which an odd couple (“One’s an accountant! One’s a belly dancer!”) must work together to solve a problem. This time, wunza control-freak FBI agent (Michael Peña) who starts his day with kale smoothies and exfoliating cream, and wunza former motorbike pro (Dax Shepard) who sleeps at the police academy after his wife dumped him and whose accumulated crash injuries make him chomp Vicodin like it’s Pez. The rookie and the G-man are thrown together on the California Highway Patrol when the latter goes undercover to investigate a series of armored-truck robberies. Of course they drive each other crazy at first, but once they realize the rash of heists leads back to their own department, they’re on the case.
Writer/director/actor Dax Shepard is not an improbable movie star. He’s tall and handsome, in a weathered ex-Strip-o-Gram dancer kind of way, and in aviator shades his long philtrum gives him a Kevin Bacon-y je ne sais quoi. (He’s got acres more charisma than Michael Peña, that’s for sure.) He’s also not a bad action-movie director: His judicious adherence to the 180-degree rule makes this film’s multiple chases visually comprehensible and viscerally satisfying. But after he’s gotten CHiPS out of his system, he needs to take on better characters than the ones he’s written for himself—a role like the one Thomas Haden Church got in Sideways, something with enough depth and pathos to help him overcome his inclination to be a dewy-eyed smart aleck. Shepard the screenwriter only knows how to slap together scenes of explosions and bickering, over and over again, garnished with gay-panic jokes about men’s bodies and middle-school misogyny. The latter can be seen in lines scolding male characters like “You’re acting like a widow,” “You bickering old ladies,” and, in a men’s grappling class, “Get at it, girls.” What’s the antithesis of the Bechdel test, in which male characters solely drive the plot and female characters are only victims, bitches, and/or objects of lust? This film would pass with flying colors.
Movies are neither good nor bad because of how much sound and fury they throw at the audience. They are good for only one reason, and that’s because they’ve created characters we care about to the end. These two guys? Not so much. The obstacle course to the credits is so formulaic that this critic started amusing herself by making a tally of breasts and explosions, like how drive-in-flick connoisseur Joe Bob Briggs always used to end his reviews. The final count: six lingering shots on women’s butts, one naked male butt in the act of what Joe Bob called “aardvarking,” seven car crashes, one severed head, seven boobs distributed among four women, four explosions, one blustery police chief shouting “You’re off the case!” and one pixelated wing-wang. Add a cameo from Erik Estrada and we’re done.