Naked Oldsters and Muscle Cars: 'Hit and Run'

(A) comedy without laughs, a thriller without same.

Hit and Run

Director: Dax Shepard, David Palmer
Cast: Dax Shepard Kristen Bell, Michael Rosenbaum, Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper
Rated: R
Studio: Open Road Films
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-08-22 (General release)
UK date: 2012-08-22 (General release)

It's nice to know that, in these days of belt tightening and elephantine budgets, there is still room in Tinsel Town for some good old fashioned nepotism. Wait...perhaps that's not quite the right spin on things here. Let's just say, it pays to date someone who the suits believe can open a movie, no matter how nominal. Clearly, someone in the executive offices at Open Road Films believe Kristin Bell is bankable. How else would you explain them giving her current concubine, Dax Shepard, his own starring vehicle. You know Dax...or maybe you don't. He was one of Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd confidants, and he's had bit parts in Idiocracy, When in Rome, and Baby Mama. Now, he gets to write and co-direct an action comedy in the vein of similar romps from the '70s. Unfortunately, very little about this project reflects the pre-production faith many had, at least initially.

That's because Hit and Run is a comedy without laughs, a thriller without same. It's car chases consist of people doing donuts around abandoned airfields and, when the going gets really, really tough, they decide to drag out overweight and/or elderly swingers to show off their sideshow like genitals. Oh, and then there's Bradley Cooper as a claimed comic catalyst, one of those "awesome" villains that turn a typical laugher into something "classic." Well, if such a determination is made via dopey dreadlocks, a canned cultured 'intellect,' and the occasional F-bomb, then he's definitely Dean Wormer. On the other hand, Hit and Run has so much potential, possibilities built on both its premise and its participants, that the resulting mediocrity just makes you mad. You want to see something light, breezy, and fun. What you get is a sloppy, sullen slog.

Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, a slacker living in the middle of a California nowhere. His gal pal - Ms. Bell - is a college professor who has just landed a major gig back in LA. Problem is, our hero can't return to his former stomping grounds. Turns out, he played a part in a series of bank robberies, and had to turn State's Evidence and enter the Witness Protection Program to remain safe. Of course, his lady knows none of this. When her obsessed ex (Michael Rosenbaum) learns of the potential move, he does a bit of research and discovers Charlie's secret. He immediately lets laid back gang leader Alex Dimitri (Cooper) know the location of said stoolie. Thus begins a chase through the back roads and motels of the area, Charlie trying to escape the wrath of the man he put behind bars while getting his partner to her potential job.

Starting off genial and taking a turn for the tepid rather early on, Hit and Run spells out its intentions during the first bedroom-based scene between Shepard and Bell. She is nervous about being laid off from the local community college. He presents her with a reassuring self-help mantra. They snuggle and play nice, knowing that they will face any fight, together. Within minutes, that feeling is tested as Rosenbaum's bubbling ex-boyfriend tries everything he can to thwart this burgeoning relationship. His meddling means we have to play plotpoint, and soon we learn of Shepard's criminal past, his fear of LA, and his goofy relationship with flummoxed Federal Marshall Randy (Tom Arnold). Nothing really happens in the first 45 minutes or so. Everything, it seems, is set up for the arrival of Cooper.

Unfortunately, unlike what the TV ads have been touting for the last few weeks, Dimitri is not an "awesome" villain. He's not even a very effective one. Sure, he can take on a burly pit bull owner with a quip and a gun, but for the most part, he's all show. Even when he finally finds Shepard and starts putting the screws to his former pal, the sense of fear fades. We just don't get the supposed malevolence involved. Besides, Rosenbaum's DB ex is far more frightening in his clueless stalker sensibilities. He's the kind of guy who would go off the deep end to ensure his place in Annie's heart. By constantly deflecting the badness away from Cooper and onto this moron, the movie makes one of its most fatal mistakes. If you want Dimitri to be the embodiment of evil, then make him so. Don't turn him into a sideshow spectator watching as the rest of the cast goes crazy.

And then there is the action, or what Hit and Run considers action. We get a few foot chases, a nice moment when Charlie's dad (Beau Bridges) administers a necessary beat down, and numerous automobile ballets. Unfortunately, the car material is badly mangled. There's no sense of space, no real way of telling what is going on when. One moment, Shepard and his tail are traveling at high speeds down fairly deserted highways. The next, they are off in the middle of nowhere, circling each other like vultures trying to pick out the freshest carrion. There's no flow, no sense of cause and effect. A successful chase sets up its own internal narrative where logic and logistics meet seat of the pants reactions to create an inferred intensity. While it might not rely on CG or other computer tricks to render its realism, a little high tech help might have kept things from bogging down so badly.

As a result, Hit and Run is a movie that goes nowhere, that sets up a classic b-movie storyline and then stifles it with moments that make no sense. Why feature the physical oddity sex perverts? Shock value? Is the entire homosexual subtext (a pursing police officer, the brother of Annie's ex, is a big fan of gay hook-up smartphone apps) really a sign of diversity, or a way towards a cheap chuckle? It's not hard to see why someone would believe in this material. It has a wealth of possibilities, and always had. Sadly, the real problem here is the man behind the mess. Dax Shepard may be a fine co-star and fledgling creative type, but this film fails his intentions. Hit and Run is far more hit and miss, big emphasis on the latter.


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