A film review by Craig J. Koban September 5, 2012

HIT AND RUN jjj
 

2012, R, 100 mins.

 

Charlie Bronson: Dax Shepard / Randy: Tom Arnold / Annie: Kristen Bell / Mary Ann: Kal Bennett / Clint Perkins: Beau Bridges / Debbie: Kristin Chenoweth / Alex Dimitri: Bradley Cooper / Gil: Michael Rosenbaum / Terry: Jess Rowland

Directed by Dax Shepard and David Palmer / Written by Shepard.

The bad news for Dax Shepard’s HIT AND RUN is that it’s a beyond-obvious Tarantino knock-off right down to its colorfully macabre and eccentric characters and its hip and topical pop-culture laced dialogue exchanges.  

The good news for Shepard’s film is that it’s one of the better and more easily digestible Tarantino clones to come around in quite some time, which also manages to pay some serious fanboy love to the drag racing energy and eat-my-dust spunk of the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT-themed road films of the 1970’s.  More of less, HIT AND RUN spins its gears – no pun intended – rather well throughout its sure-footed 100-minute running time and emerges as a goofily spirited, fairly engaging, oftentimes sly, frequently politically incorrect, and mostly satisfying romcom/chase flick.   

It might also be the only film ever to have Charles Bronson teamed up with a girl that has a Ph.D. in non-violent conflict resolution. 

No, silly...not that Charles Bronson.  The main character in the film does indeed have the same name as the DEATH WISH star, but he's not named after that actor, but rather after the real life British prisoner that Tom Hardy memorably played in the 2008 film BRONSON; needless to say, most people around him understand the famous actor connection.  Charlie – played by Shepard, who also wrote and co-directed HIT AND RUN – is actually Yul Perkins (named after Yule Brynner)  who appears to be living a quaint and quiet existence in small-town California specifically as a result of testifying against his former best friend, Alex (Bradley Cooper) in a bank robbery trial six months earlier.  Since the trial he has been placed in the Witness Relocation Program where he was allowed to change his name: Good-bye Yul, hello Chuck Bronson. 

While hiding in Podunk, California Charlie met and fell in love with the beautiful Annie (Kristin Bell), the aforementioned scholar on non-violent conflict resolution.  Her focus of study is so exceedingly rare that she is elated to discover that she has been handpicked to head up a whole faculty on the subject at a University in L.A..  After some initial reluctance to see his girlfriend leave, Charlie decides that he would never be able to live with himself if he insisted on her staying in Podunk, so he offers to drive her all the way to L.A. in his uber-restored and uber-souped-up 1967 Lincoln Continental. 

 

 

Charlie is taking some real chances on his seemingly innocent drive to the City of Angels.  Leaving Poduck would be a breach of the terms of his relocation program and would, in turn, greatly frustrate his already fidgety, hyper-anxiety plagued, and closeted homosexual program overseer, U.S. Marshall Randy (Tom Arnold).  Charlie and Annie’s road odyssey does not begin well: An old flame of Annie’s, Gil (Michael Rossenbaum) still obsessively pines for her, and when his jealousy over her going off with Charlie reaches a boiling point, he begins to stock them on the freeway.  Even worse, he discovers Charlie’s real identity and blabs his whereabouts to the criminals – via Facebook - that Charlie turned against months ago.  Things then get very, very complicated for Charlie and Annie.. 

Shepard is an actor that I’ve never really latched on to in any meaningful manner (he was borderline forgettable in movies like LET’S GO TO PRISON, WHEN IN ROME – also co-staring Bell, his real-life girlfriend – and EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH).  Shepard wrote HIT AND RUN, co-directed it, starred in it, did most of his own stunt driving in it, and even supplied most of the vehicles used in the production, a multi-tasked feat that deserves some respect.  You can really tell that Shepard is a full-on auto-nut and goes to great lengths to show his admiration for his drop-dead-sexy and ink-black 700-hp Continental.  There is a super slow motion montage at one point in the film that shows him pealing out from the car’s resting spot on the side of the freeway – with wheels spinning, rubber burning, and smoke billowing - that’s presented in near-pornographic detail.  Cars like this are designed to look cool, and the film achieves its status quo of making great visual usage of its vehicles when their pedals are put to the metal 

The Tarantino-ian comparison here comes in the way Shepard tries to infuse the film with lively dialogue exchanges, and even though he is certainly not the PULP FICTION helmer’s equal in this respect, Shepard does have a modest knack for writing snarky, snappy, and frisky exchanges - usually between Charlie and Annie - that keeps the film briskly move forward.  There are lots of  unexpectedly offbeat conversations between characters that lesser road action comedies would not have, like ones involving the key ingredients of B-grade dog food; what owning muscle cars says about masculine ego – or lack there of; and, hell, even the nationality of the person that raped Alex in prison is brought to the forefront.  At one point Charlie uses a derogatory term for homosexual people to describe something as being “lame”, but Shepard’s script does not leave it at that: Annie then engages in a meticulous dissection of Charlie’s rationale for using that homophobic slur in what he sees as an inoffensive descriptor.  

The characters that populate the film around Charlie and Annie (Shepard and Bell together evoke a natural and unforced chemistry) are whimsically eclectic as well.  First, there’s Bradley Cooper’s surprisingly low key and sometimes hysterical portrayal of his dread-locked crook with an eye for vengeance.  Then there’s a gay highway patrol officer named Terry (Jesse Rowland) that finds himself perusing Charlie and Annie throughout the film while looking for love at the same time (he has an app called “Pouncer” that is able to use GPS to locate other gay people that use it).  This leads me to my favorite character in the film, Arnold’s U.S. Marshall, who just happens to be the most hapless, uncoordinated, and unlucky law enforcement officer in recent movie history.  Just how hapless is he?  Within the first few minutes of the film he’s literally running after and shooting at his own SUV to stop it after he forgot to put it in gear while parking it.  Oh, did I also mention that he’s on Pouncer? 

Again, HIT AND RUN tries hard to have the energizing liveliness and endlessly verbose drollness of Tarantino, to which it somewhat succeeds.  There are, however, too much slapstick shenanigans, raunchy innuendo, and some puerile attempts at gags in HIT AND RUN that lamentably separates itself - for the worse - from that delectable Tarantino vibe.  Yet, Shepard as a performer has never come off as more poised and relaxed and as a writer/director he commands some respectfully likeable comedic performances from his very game and enthusiastic cast.  HIT AND RUN is a fairly unfussy, self-effacing, and decently made genre-bender; it may be pawning off past films and filmmakers, but it does so with a mostly affectionate wink and not with high-minded pretentiousness and delusions of grandeur.  

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