The biggest problem with romantic comedies isn’t the set up it’s the chemistry. If there’s no heat between the two leads the audience won’t buy the happily ever after conclusion. Some actors and actresses have the ability to just gel with their co-stars. It’s the reason why Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant have done so many romantic comedies.
In the new comedy Hit & Run, Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell work well together, and it isn’t on account of having co-starred in the middling rom-com When in Rome some years back. They are a real couple, so the chemistry they display on screen is not just Hollywood make believe, it’s real.
Realistically, the film looks as if it would have had a big push as a direct-to-video release littering Blockbusters for curious browsers looking for something to occupy two hours of their time. With a supporting cast that includes Hangover star Bradley Cooper and using “From the producer of Wedding Crashers” as a promotional tool, a rental hit was all but assured. Yet somehow the comedy saw itself picked up by young distributor Open Road Films (which also handled the Liam Neeson-starring The Grey back in January) in December of last year and given a late August release.
Written and co-directed by Shepard, he has made no qualms in interviews noting the inspiration of the film came from his childhood love of Smokey and the Bandit, starring the man with the million-dollar ‘stache, Burt Reynolds. So in an effort to reconnect with his childhood, he, Bell, and other producers raised $2M, got a bunch of friends together and made a movie.
This was information I wasn’t privy to before stepping into the screening. Nor did I know that Shepard did his own stunt driving for certain scenes. Finding this out after the fact, my original thoughts were altered somewhat, as I could appreciate what Shepard wanted to achieve with the comedy.
Dax Shepard plays “Charlie Bronson,” a man in witness protection for having testified against his own bank-robbing outfit. He was the getaway driver of the outfit, but when the last job results in shots fired, he decides to put his driving days behind him and resign himself to witness protection. Holed up in Milton Valley, CA, he meets and falls in love with Annie (Kristen Bell), a professor at a nearby college who has a degree in non-violent conflict resolution. She knows he’s in witness protection but believes it was for being a good samaritan in witnessing a robbery. When the opportunity arises for her to get a better teaching job in Los Angeles – the same place Bronson’s known associates are located – he risks his safety to ensure that his ladylove gets what she wants and a whole lot more. How romantic.
The problem is that the “whole lot more” part involves car chases, gunfire, and conversations about the misuse of a certain homosexual slang word in place of the word “lame.” The comedy starts off lethargically, with the introduction of Shepard’s and Bell’s characters, and Randy (Tom Arnold), the accident-prone U.S. Marshal assigned to protect him. However, his ill-fated intro shows that he is the real one in need of protecting, absentmindedly shooting at his runaway SUV with kids playing in a yard in an effort to stop it from moving.
Leaving Milton for Los Angeles brings out a slew of supporting characters, including Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend, Gil (Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum), and Gil’s brother Terry (Jess Rowland), a gay cop who seems more content to play with his fictional iPhone app Pouncer – when activated it sends pings to other homosexuals in his vicinity – than do actual police work. Technology rears its ugly head when Gil discovers Charlie’s real name (Yul Perkins), which leads him to Facebook friend the man he ratted out, Alex Dimitri (a dreadlock-sporting, cool shades-wearing Bradley Cooper).
Suddenly, Shepard is kicking asphalt (to an inspired rendition of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” by Lou Rawls) inside a 1967 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors, a 700hp engine, and Annie riding shotgun. Autophiles rejoice!
As a comedy, Hit & Run doesn’t quite live up to its tagline of never taking its foot off the gas. No, any time Tom Arnold makes an appearance as the bumbling marshal the comedy screeches to a halt, leaving tire tracks on the road and blank stares from those trying to remember the last time Arnold was funny (James Cameron’s True Lies, methinks). Bell as a non-violent conflict resolution major getting wrapped up in Shepard’s past life as a getaway driver is an interesting development, especially seeing her trying to hypothesize and theorize everything that Charlie did in the past to how he is acting now.
Bradley Cooper’s Dimitri character is ridiculous, looking like Gary Oldman’s Drexel in True Romance, though not as threatening. But Dimitri can be a threat when pressed. During his introduction at a grocery store he performs an act to an African-American that could be deemed racially insensitive by some groups.
Hit & Run is sort of like that: an off-the-wall movie that pokes fun at stereotypes and preconceptions. It misses its comedy mark most of the time but is able to land a good chuckle every now and again. If you have a penchant for low-key comedies with car chases and an eclectic soundtrack (which also includes Aerosmith and The Who), you might find this funny.
But if you don’t like Dax Shepard or a comedy that comes across as Smokey and the Bandit’s and My Name is Earl’s lovechild, then you may just want to give this one a pass.
Director: Dax Shepard and David Palmer
Writer: Dax Shepard
Notable Cast: Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Kristin Chenoweth, Beau Bridges, Joy Bryant