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‘Hit and Run’ pulls most of its punches and never makes it into high gear

Hit and Run

Direct byed Dax Shepard and David Palmer

Written by Dax Shepard

U.S.A., 2012

There is a saying that comes up seemingly every year at around this time during the summer season, something along the lines of people going through the ‘dog days of summer.’ It is late August; school shall be back in session in matter of weeks if not in a matter of days for some, most of the eclectic summertime festivals have concluded and, as far as the blockbuster movie calender is concerned, the heavy hitters have made their claims and earned their bounty. The movie weekend of August 24th is upon us and, seemingly as a testament to the sort of products studios release at this stage, one of the wide releases shall be the Dax Shepard written and co directed film Hit and Run, low brow fair if there ever was any. Shepard is a divisive figue in the comedy nerd community, and far be it for his latest film to convert any of the naysayers,

Viewers are taken to the beautiful California countryside, away from all the hustle and tussle prominent in the metropolis’ like Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is here that car enthusiast Charles Bronson (Dax Shepard, and if the name selection seems inappropriate, it is explained later on) and over-qualified school teacher Annie (Kristen Bell) have chosen to make a live for themselves one year ago. The latter’s professional career is about to take a impressive turn for the better however, or so she hopes, when it is announced that a prestigious school in L.A. awaits her for an interview which may lead her to head the only academic department in the entire United States dealing with non-violent conflict resolution psychology. The news is bright, although poses a few problems for Charles, who is legally commissioned to remain in his current location for reasons not immediately explained. clearly, he has had a run in with the law of some sorts in the past, which explains why bumbling U.S. Marshall Randy (Tom Arnold) keeps popping up every now and then. Throwing caution to the wind, Charles acquiesces and agrees to relocate to the big city. The trip will be anything by a simple task. Randy, Annie’s former overly protective ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum) and an evil figure from Charles past (Bradley Cooper) all throw challenges their way.

‘The film’s handicaps originate from the script, which assumes too much, poor casting choices and, finally, its woefully miscalculated humour.’

Dax Shepard’s sophomore directorial feature (co-directed with David Palmer, in actuality), following the poorly received Brother’s Justice from 2010,  is not the sort of film that will give the late summer schedule a gush of energy. The effort is intended to be in the same spirit as 1970s car chase classics packing welcome laughs such Smokey and the Bandit, all the while making some honest attempts at giving audiences at least a few decent thrills with nicely executed action scenes. Only precious few Shepard’s and Palmer’s intentions ever come to fruition, with the majority of the film falling flat on its nose, and all too often uncomfortably unfunny. The film’s handicaps originate from the script, which assumes too much, poor casting choices and, finally, its woefully miscalculated humour.

Dax Shepard stars in the film alongside his real life partner Kristen Bell. Presumably, because they were already lovers heading into the project, the filmmakers may have logically assumed that the on screen chemistry could be guaranteed, yet such is not the case, not even close for that matter. Bell is less of an an issue. She has made a solid name for herself through various television projects, most notably the Veronica Mars show, and even though her movie career has never seriously taken off, she can be relied on for some nice charm and wit. She is, simply put, a very pleasant actress to watch and is gifted with some interestingly subtle comedic timing. Shepard, on the other hand, while not entirely devoid of gravitas, is terribly flat when compared to his co-star. A debate can be had as to whether or not it was wise to award most of the other cast members the funnier lines (he is a comedian by trade, but many consider him to be excruciatingly unfunny), but there is little doubting that he is capable of handling a moderately dramatic role. He simply does not, or cannot, bring much to the screen for the viewer to latch on to.  They may be a phenomenal couple in real life, who knows, but on screen Shepard and Bell are boring, with Shepard bearing the most responsibility for the problems.

The film’s cast is equally head scratching. True enough, the dialogue is mundane and as uninspired as can be, but a strong actor, even a decent actor, is equipped with the necessary skill to rise above mediocre material, a feat nobody in this movie accomplishes. Michael Rosenbaum, incidentally enough the second actor mentioned to have made a name for himself in television rather than film, is not a funny man. He plays Annie’s paranoid former beau, someone convinced that Charles is a psycho murderer and thus, in an effort to shield Annie from harm, tracks them down with some manic plan to dispose of Charles. Comedy is a funny thing. Seriously, it is a funny thing in that trying to explain why one actor can pull off lines that aim to make audiences laughs whereas another cannot is a challenge. Rosenbaum is simply not funny, there really is not much more that can be said.  Tom Arnold, who shares Dax Shepard’s love of comedy, is just as unexciting as either of the two aforementioned male co-stars. Yelling ‘fuck’ the fiftieth time will not possess the same wondrous pizazz it did on the first occasion.

‘It feels like the movie has a story to tell, but it continuously comes to halt for yawn-inducing jokes.’

Which brings us to the jokes featured throughout. The humour in this movie is incredibly blunt, an issue only compounded by the poor line delivery. More than blunt, it is low brow. Now, low brow humour in of itself is not an issue for anybody feeling a little adventurous with their comedy films. How many jokes in Judd Apatow scripts are drenched in vulgarity? In those films, the jokes work because they are well written (as ‘well written’ as vile jokes can be) and the actors know who to dish them out. Hit and Run fails on both accounts.  There is an exchange late in the picture between Shepard and Cooper in which  Cooper’s character reveals having spent 8 months in prison not long ago and was, unfortunately, a victim of rape. A delicate topic, that much is certain, but one someone can imagine would be made funny in an Apatow picture. Here, Shepard and Cooper share their lines in such mundane, uninspired fashion, which presumably is what should produce laughter, but nothing comes out of it. Shepard merely lists off a number of races in order to learn who raped his former associate in prison why Cooper replies ‘No’ to each of his guesses. It feels like the movie has a story to tell, but it continuously comes to halt for yawn-inducing jokes.

The film’s highlights are rare, but all feature the nice looking cars. The movie’s title is somewhat misleading insofar as the adventure does not have nearly as much car-themed action scenes as one would like, but those showcased are honestly quite slick. After bemoaning most of what the directing duo of Shepard and Palmer have concocted, it should be recognized that they knew how to stage some respectable chase sequences. Perhaps if the film had been exclusively about the chase, we would have a superior picture on our hands.

It is unsure who will enjoy themselves while watching Hit and Run. The characters are flat, lack charisma and cannot deliver the intended humour. In essence, the movie commits the worst cinematic sin of them all: it is boring. It may may be called Hit and Run, but it goes nowhere, fast.

-Edgar Chaput