'CHIPS' Set Report: Dax Shepard Does His Best Michael Bay Impression With the R-Rated Action-Comedy (Exclusive Pics)

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Dax Shepard was in his happy place on the set of CHIPS. The actor-writer-director was three days away from wrapping the $25 million action-comedy, and he sat in his trailer recalling the many times he’d gotten to blow stuff up over the course of the film’s 45-day shoot.

“We blew up a propane truck on the side of [highway] 210 that had, like, 30 gallons of gas in it. It was, like, a nine-story-high fireball. And then the thing flipped over and landed on a car perfectly,” Shepard told Yahoo Movies on the film’s Los Angeles set in January 2016.

With each anecdote, Shepard grew more and more excited, sounding like he’s liable to break into a Michael Bay impression at any moment. “Watching the Hummer drive through a motorhome was really fantastic. That really made my whole week. A real Hummer hitting a real motorhome at 50 miles per hour, just breaking it half — it just doesn’t get better than that.”

Shepard, who was stepping behind the camera for a second time after the 2012 sleeper Hit & Run, called CHIPS “without question the fun-est work experience” of his life, if that wasn’t obvious already. “Every day one of three things is happening: We’re either blowing something up. Or some great motorcycle stunt is happening. Or we’re doing some R-rated comedy.”

The film, of course, is a big-screen reboot of the famed late ‘70s, early ‘80s TV series of the same name starring Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as motorcycle-riding California Highway Patrol cops Frank “Ponch” Poncherello and Jon Baker, respectively.

Just after Warner Bros. brought other TV staples Starsky & Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard to the big screen, the studio announced a movie version of CHIPS back in 2005, starring That ’70s Show breakout Wilmer Valderama as Ponch (and according to later reports, future Captain America Chris Evans.) That version stalled, and the project was stuck in development dormancy for over a decade.

Hit & Run, a road trip smash-‘em-up that Shepard co-directed with David Palmer and starred in alongside wife Kristen Bell, gave the former Parenthood star some clout after the $1 million action-comedy made 13 times its budget at the box office. After flexing his driving skills in Hit & Run, Shepard (a Michigan native who is a hardcore gearhead) and producer Andrew Panay (Wedding Crashers) plotted a follow-up that would utilize the actor-director’s biking abilities. They landed on an idea for a new take on CHIPS, one that would be proudly R-rated.

Shepard figured they would want “a big movie star” to play Jon, but he had one actor in mind for Ponch when pitching former WB exec Greg Silverman: Ant-Man and The Martian star Michael Peña. Silverman liked Shepard as Jon and had worked with Peña on End of Watch, so the casting concept helped seal the deal. “And then we left and I immediately said, ‘We need to get ahold of Michael Peña. I need to convince him to do this movie, because we just sold the movie based 100 percent on him being in it.‘”

Peña, it turns out, was intrigued. Growing up, the Mexican-American Chicago native idolized Latino icons like Stand and Deliver star Edward James Olmos and CHIPS heartthrob Estrada. “They were real eye-openers for me,” he said. “Like wow, these guys are actually making it happen.”

The movie version of CHIPS, according to all involved, has next to nothing in common with the TV show. Asked how it stays true to its source, Shepard said, “I’d say it does in that it has motorcycles, and it has guys named Jon and Ponch. And it’s in California.”

In this incarnation, Jon is a professional motorcyclist who loses his swagger after a serious injury, just as his marriage to his wife (played by Bell) hits the rocks. So he enrolls in the police academy where — thanks to his mad biking skills — he just barely lands a 30-day trial on the CHP team. He’s partnered with Ponch, who happens to be an undercover FBI agent investigating corruption and ultimately targeting veteran officer Vic Brown (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Don’t expect a broadly comedic take on the material, à la 21 Jump Street. “As a rule of thumb, you should try to make the stuff that you yourself consume and enjoy,” Shepard said. “I am always happier when I go see an action movie that’s shockingly funny as opposed to seeing a comedy that has shockingly good action.”

Both Shepard and Peña are aware of the type of internet shade a project like CHIPS can draw. Peña’s already gotten his fair share of mean tweets over his assumption of the nametag once wore by Estrada. “Someone on Twitter said, ‘I can’t believe Michael Peña’s playing Ponch. He’s the worst Latin actor of all time.’ I’m like, ‘Woah. I think there’s a couple worse than I am. Don’t you think? I’m not the absolute worst.’”

And then of course there’s the common complaint about Hollywood’s reliance on older franchises over original ideas. Shepard, however, has a powerful examples to counter. “Batman was a TV show before it was a movie. Star Trek was a show before it was a movie. Charlie’s Angels. Mission: Impossible,” he said. “There’s no way Warner Bros is giving me, Dax Shepard, $25 million to make an action movie without any bona fide stars in it, unless it has this umbrella of CHIPS. So for me, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. CHIPS name aside, this is a very original movie.”

CHIPS opens March 24. Watch the new red-band trailer: