Directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard
Written by Dax Shepard
Twenty years after his breakout hit, Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s influence is being felt in mainstream cinema. His penchant for hyper-literate, self-conscious characters and dialogue mixed with sudden bursts of violence has become almost commonplace in 21st-century filmmaking, but some writers and directors can’t manage to resist the pull of Tarantino’s style, often to their detriment. Tarantino’s impact can be felt all over Hit & Run, an otherwise affable, low-key action comedy that often resorts to overly chatty and meandering sequences rooted in his singular vernacular.
Dax Shepard, best known these days as a co-star on NBC’s Parenthood, wrote, co-edited (with Keith Croket), co-directed (with David Palmer), and heads up the ensemble of Hit & Run as Charlie Bronson, who lives in a small California town with his girlfriend, Annie (Shepard’s real-life fiancée, Kristen Bell). And yes, Charlie’s name is that way on purpose; it’s a fake, as he’s in the Witness Protection Program for testifying against two bank robbers. Though Charlie doesn’t like the small town much, he’s madly in love with Annie, so much so that he’s willing to risk everything and drive her to Los Angeles for a life-changing job interview. Unfortunately, at the same time, the bank robbers Charlie fingered find out about his whereabouts and aim for revenge.
The best scenes in Hit & Run come early, and are simple in their charm: watching Shepard and Bell just talk to each other. Not every real-life couple has chemistry that translates well to the screen, but these two have such an easygoing, laid-back spark. They’re so much fun to watch, the highlight is a scene where they’re driving in Charlie’s souped-up muscle car and the interactions reach a level where you’re no longer watching actors playing characters; you’re watching Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell banter with each other, almost unaware that cameras are filming them. Most of the plot machinations feel a bit too familiar, but we’re invested in Charlie and Annie as a couple entirely because you believe they actually are attracted to each other.
Hit & Run doesn’t bite off more than it can chew, but the story is almost too small. The initial conflict is whether or not Annie can make her interview on time; once her jealous ex (Michael Rosenbaum) decides to ruin Charlie no matter what, the conflict is evading the vengeful bank robbers, led by Charlie’s old friend Alex (a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper). But even then, Alex doesn’t feel like a particularly threatening villain. Maybe it’s because Cooper isn’t that believable as a heavy—his introductory scene, where he beats up an uber-muscular type at the grocery store, is a bit much to swallow. Cooper’s not terrible as Alex, but there’s never a point where you look at him and wonder if Charlie’s overmatched.
The greatest faults of Hit & Run are that it’s not that funny for a movie trying very hard to be, and that it feels a lot like an excuse for Shepard to pal around with his buddies. When Hit & Run doesn’t break its metaphorical back to get a laugh from the audience, it can be fun to watch. An early scene, however, introduces comic relief in the form of the film’s worst character, the U.S. Marshal watching over Charlie, played by Tom Arnold. Arnold is many things in life, but funny isn’t one of them. His wild gesticulations and line delivery make you wonder if he intended to poorly channel the spirit of the late Chris Farley or not. His character, Randy, is thankfully not in a lot of Hit & Run, but his sequences arguably fall the flattest.
The rest of the cast manage to be decent, despite appearing probably as a favor to Shepard. Why, look, here’s Anchorman’s Champ Kind, David Koechner! Or, over here, we have Kristin Chenoweth as Annie’s foulmouthed, pill-popping supervisor! And hey, it’s Shepard’s Parenthood co-star Joy Bryant! These actors are fine, if unremarkable in the film. (For fans of Veronica Mars, seeing Bell and Ryan Hansen, who played Dick Casablancas on that program, is a hoot.) Even when things get predictably heated in the second half, tensions never seem that high. Everyone’s too busy hanging out.
Hit & Run is not without its charms, though the tone of the film is often too lackadaisical to make a strong impact. Too often, the movie feels like a vehicle for us to be shown that, hey, Dax Shepard really likes to drive fast cars. (He and Palmer, in their direction, go out of their way to emphasize that he’s the one driving in many chase scenes.) Or that, hey, Dax Shepard is friends with people like Jason Bateman! Mostly, Hit & Run is best when it simply lets the actors bounce off each other, avoiding the plot and Tarantino-esque ambitions of any kind.
– Josh Spiegel