[21 August 2012]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Partway through Hit & Run, a nameless bodybuilder (John Duff)—so designated by his physique, tank top, and monosyllabic speech—is buying Kibble for his spike-collared pitbull. He’s surprised when, standing on line at a grocery store, he’s accosted by Alex (Bradley Cooper), a stranger who instructs him on Kibble’s lack of nutritional value, and, as he puts it, “how much better the good dog food is for your dog.” The bodybuilder stares him down: “You trying to get knocked the fuck out, motherfucker?”
Not exactly. As you know, but the bodybuilder does not know, Alex is a caricature of a bully, short and dreadlocked and angry, currently chasing down an ex-accomplice whose testimony sent him to prison. You also know—or can guess, anyway—that the unnamed bodybuilder is in place to showcase Alex’s cocky belligerence. He follows the man outside and assaults him with a gun, puts his dog’s leash on him, and forces him to eat Kibble, then screeches off in a self-satisfied huff, his gorgeous girlfriend Neve (Joy Bryant) in tow. But not before he issues this proclamation: “It’s not cool to wear tank tops anymore, unless you’re wearing it ironically or something.”
This last makes clear an already obvious point, that Alex, like the other characters with guns and names in Hit & Run, is ironic. Specifically, he’s ironic in the way that bad boys are always ironic in Tarantino movies, smart-assed and hyper-articulate, spastically violent and desperately macho. Just so, Alex has only stopped off at the grocery store in order to demonstrate his brutality and then to move on, in pursuit of his ex-accomplice, Yul (Dax Shepard), whom he means to punish for a betrayal and, no small thing, whom he also believes has his loot.
This would be the primary plot of Hit & Run, the boys working out their estrangement via car chases, shootouts, and fisticuffs (and lots of , Alex attended by his crew (Neve and a thug or two) and Yul by his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell). Until Alex shows up, early in the movie, Annie knows Yul as “Charlie Bronson,” the so-ironic name he’s chosen for his stint in witness protection in Milton, California, where he’s met and moved in with Annie. Now she has to reconcile the man she thinks she loves with the man who has a nefarious past, as the getaway car for Alex’s bank robberies and as Neve’s boyfriend.
Annie’s dilemmas pile on here, mostly as plot devices to get Yul on the road and so, into Alex’s sight. For one thing, her doctorate in Nonviolent Conflict Resolution has qualified her for a new, ostensibly once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity in LA. And for another, her previous understanding of Randy (Tom Arnold) as Yul’s goofy buddy is now revealed as a lie as well: he’s actually (and yes! ironically) the US marshal assigned to protect him (“This seems like the bottom of the barrel as far as being a marshal,” Randy sighs).
All these ironies collide when Yul decides to drive Annie to LA, in his beloved 1967 Lincoln Continental (a splashily ironic vehicle that’s also sentimental, as he used to work on it with his dad, played by Beau Bridges: “We weren’t the hottest communicators,” Yul tells Annie, “But we worked well together”). When Yul gets word of Yul’s whereabouts via his (coincidental? ironic? who knows) Facebook friendship with Annie’s ex-boyfriend Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), the chasing and shooting plot grinds into something like a high gear, or at least a loud one, where much of the driving action consists of the boys spinning their cars in rubber-squealing circles.
In this sense, in the sense that the action is reducible to its title, Hit & Run is a high concept movie. Just so, it’s formulaic, such that all the crashing and killing (and a girly catfight) lead to a reaffirmation of the couple’s true romance (see: Tarantino and Tony Scott’s hectic model for this film), as well as a happy-enough ending for father and son, not to mention comeuppance for the bad guys, as well as homophobia jokes, racism jokes, rape jokes, sexism jokes, and, per Annie’s expertise, a couple of nonviolent conflict resolution jokes. These are all ironic jokes, of course, meaning that the movie knows that you know that they’re toeing a what’s-appropriate line, a line that shifts precisely because you know it exists.
All this is to say that Hit & Run, for all the fireworks and gaudy patter, is utterly generic. As much as it crafts a clever distance from its abundance of f-words and extravagant violence, an awareness of your awareness that you’ve seen it all before. Tank tops aren’t cool anymore. And neither is this movie.