Hit and Run

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/22/12 10:25:37

"Daz Shepard Pops His Clutch And. . .Eh, Never Mind."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

"Hit & Run" is a throwback to the kind of deliberately low-rent action-comedy vehicle, jam-packed with car chases and crashes galore, that closed many a late night at the drive-in back in the Seventies. Of course, the problem with most of those movies is that, with the exception of the occasional bright light like "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" and the original "Smokey and the Bandit," they usually weren't very good, especially during the moments when the actors had to get out from behind their steering wheels and that is certainly the case here.

Dax Shepard, who also wrote and co-directed the film, stars as Charlie Bronson, an amiable dope who has been part of the Witness Relocation program because of his involvement with a bank robbery and relocated to a rural California town where he somehow manages to pass the time by snuggling with his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell), a conflict resolution expert at the local community college. When she gets an opportunity to interview for a teaching position at UCLA, he decides to break free of the program in order to drive her to Los Angeles in his restored and turbo-charged 1967 Lincoln Continental. What Annie doesn't know is that Charlie's involvement with the robbery wasn't entirely innocent and before long, the two find themselves being pursued by Charlie's former criminal associate (Bradley Cooper), Annie's crazed ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum) and Charlie's FBI minder (Tom Arnold), a klutz who appears equally inept at keeping his car on the road and his gun from discharging.

The trouble with "Hit & Run" isn't so much that it is a bad film--though it is--as much as it is a thoroughly unpleasant one from start to finish. Granted, the films that it was clearly inspired by were not exactly paragons of good taste, quiet dignity and progressive attitudes (I bow to no one in my love for "Smokey and the Bandit" but every time I see it, I continue to be startled by some of the stuff that director Hal Needham got away with back in the day) but there is a nasty edge to the proceedings here that sucks all the fun out of what could have been an entertainingly innocuous goof. For example, there is a scene in which dreadlock-bedecked crime lord Cooper gets into a confrontation at the grocery store with a hotheaded and musclebound African-American man over the cheapo dog food the latter is buy for his pet. In the store, Cooper is calm and loquacious but outside, he sneaks up on the other guy, wraps a leash around his neck and drags him backwards into a nearby alley in images that cannot help but suggest a potential lynching--to make matters worse, the whole thing is meant to be a barrel of laughs. The scene is clearly meant to evoke the notorious scene in "True Romance" featuring Gary Oldman but in that case, screenwriter Quentin Tarantino was able to offset the borderline racism inherent in that scene by handling the charged material with wit, cleverness and superior writing. Here, without those elements, the scene is so ugly and off-putting that it single-handedly delivers a death blow from which the film never recovers.

Of course, it isn't as if "Hit & Run" was exactly firing on all cylinders before going off the road at that point. Most of the humor is of the kind of helplessly and hopelessly crude nature that believes that the only thing funnier than a long and lingering shot of a group of elderly naked people preparing for a motel room orgy is a second long and lingering shot of the same thing a few minutes later. Despite being a couple in what is laughingly known as real life, Shepard and Bell strike relatively few sparks together and never really make much of a connection on the screen. (As much as it pains me to say this as a long-standing fan of the glory that was "Veronica Mars," Kristen Bell has been in so many awful movies in the last few years that her name in the credits should now constitute a warning.) Of the supporting cast, the only person who is completely embarrassing is none other than Tom Arnold, who manages to wring a few laughs out of the tired material he is working with and even his character is burdened with a tacky subplot involving his sexuality that gets quite tiresome quite quickly.

The best thing about "Hit & Run" is the action-oriented stuff involving the car going through its paces. It is quite evident that Shepard and co-director David Palmer are fans of the car chase film sub-genre and that they see this film as a way of paying homage to others of its ilk. Even better, they have evidently eschewed CGI in order to give viewers scenes that have real cars that are really jumping, swerving and crashing into each other and as a result, they have more of an impact--both physically and dramatically--than they would have had if they had been whipped up out of a bunch of 1's and 0's on a computer. The good news about "Hit & Run" is that whenever the Lincoln Continental blasts onto the screen, the film briefly comes to life amidst all the burning rubber. The bad news is that the car also gets the best dialogue and the most convincing character arc as well.

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