Hollywood studios are obsessed with virtually any recognizable brand name as a way to ensure built-in audiences for new movies, the main reason feature-film versions of Power Rangers and CHiPs (neither of which was available to review by press time) are opening in theaters this week. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the source material is any good, or even whether it has a devoted current following. As long as there is some level of familiarity, that’s enough to convince executives that a project is worth pursuing.
How those brand names are treated, however, varies greatly, and this week’s new remakes/reboots/reimaginings illustrate two very different takes on updating vintage properties for the current day. In the case of Power Rangers, the brand never really went away—while the most well-known era of the cheesy kids’ sci-fi TV series is the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show that ran on Fox from 1993-1995, the Power Rangers have existed in various incarnations from 1993 through today, with the current Power Rangers Ninja Steel airing on Nickelodeon since January (all of the series also recycle footage and other elements from a number of unrelated Japanese shows).
CHiPs has a more limited history, with a six-season run as a TV cop drama on NBC from 1977-1983. Aside from a one-off reunion TV movie in 1998, the property has been dormant since then, and its cheesy, earnest style has not aged well. So while the Power Rangers movie strikes a serious, dark tone, with muted versions of the candy-colored heroes and villains from the Mighty Morphin series and a PG-13 rating (to appeal to the now-grown-up childhood fans of the ’90s series), CHiPs has turned its source material’s drama into comedy, with a movie that basically makes fun of the series on which it’s based.
That kind of mocking adaptation goes back at least to 1987’s Dragnet, starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks in a parody of the straitlaced ’50s cop TV series. Cop shows that tackled serious issues of their day but now seem outdated have been prime targets for this sort of reimagining, in movies like Starsky & Hutch and 21 Jump Street. If there are CHiPs fans upset at the movie taking shots at their favorite TV show, none of them have been vocal enough to bother the movie’s producers.
So this week we have a serious, big-budget sci-fi action movie based on a cut-rate afternoon kids’ TV show that was constructed partially from clips of other shows, and a dumb action comedy based on a mainstream network crime drama. Capturing the essence of the source material is beside the point, as long as potential moviegoers can say, “Hey, I remember that!”
Power Rnagers Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler. Directed by Dean Israelite. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Chips Michael Peña, Dax Shepard, Jessica McNamee. Directed by Dax Shepard. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.