In Hit & Run, real-life couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell play onscreen couple Charlie Bronson and Annie. Charlie is a self-named member of the witness protection program, hiding out in a small rural town where he enjoys a simple life of love, and days spent worrying over his buffoonish handler, Randy (Tom Arnold). Charlie’s happy world begins to crack when Annie is offered a job developing her own curriculum at a university in Los Angeles – the home of Charlie’s criminal past, and a lot of bad people who want to get even with him.
Trying to prove his love, Charlie dusts off his bad boy muscle car and scoops Annie for a high-speed run to her LA job interview. But when Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend Gil (Michael Rosenbaum) tries to undermine the happy exodus, he unwittingly brings down all the wrong kind of heat on the situation. Before long, Charlie and Annie’s road trip is a high-speed chase, complete with shootouts, buried treasure, and…a dune buggy.
Hit & Run was written and co-directed by Shepard; the other half of that directorial team is David Palmer, Shepard’s friend and collaborator (the two made another indie comedy called Brother’s Justice). Much of the cast is also made up of names the lead actors have worked with before, and/or call friend; in that sense, Hit & Run has a pretty tight-knit atmosphere, with plenty of chemistry between the players onscreen. On the other hand, a lot of Hit & Run depends on your reaction to seeing a real-life couple get mushy while playing around with their friends – and as the very first scene clearly establishes, that’s the type of “fun” this movie is going to offer.
For their parts, Bell and Shepard are a cute couple, with cute chemistry, and are pleasant enough to watch. They actually manage to act like real people in a real relationship, and much of the dialogue and romantic humor in Shepard’s screenplay is humorously real and relatable. (Of course, at times the dialogue could’ve used an infusion of melodrama: realistic conversation doesn’t always make for an interesting movie.) There are some great comedic moments (usually the raunchier ones), while in other instances, the slapstick physical comedy or one-dimensional caricatures don’t work that well at all. As a whole, the movie is a bit uneven in this way.
With the lead couple and scene-to-scene dialogue both getting passing grades, it’s easier to forgive some of the lacking areas of the film, such as the inexperienced direction and flimsy plot progression. Palmer and Shepard are clearly still developing their techniques working behind the camera – and while static scenes in the film are fine, action scenes requiring a lot of moving camera work are pretty mundane. Palmer (a former music video and commercial director) shows some difficulty in making the transition to film, as many of the vehicular chase sequences look more like the short-form formats he’s experienced in, rather than something you’d want to see in action cinema. The Fast and the Furious this movie is not.
The progression and development of the screenplay also shows inexperience. After a solid enough opening setup, our protagonists hit the road, where the meandering and random coincidences begin to drag things down. The primary through line (Annie’s job interview deadline in LA) gets all tangled up in the character arcs (Annie and Charlie having to confront and deal with the reality of Charlie’s past) to the point that somewhere in the middle, it is somewhat unclear where motivations lie. Luckily, when such questions start to arise, another secondary character/plot-thread arrives to push things along to the next stop along the road. The narrative barely works, but it works.
Tom Arnold goes overboard as Charlie’s trigger-happy (more like trigger-sloppy) handler, Randy; Bradley Cooper dons blonde dreads to play a vengeance-seeking accomplice who has one of the odder criminal temperaments I’ve seen; Shepard’s Parenthood co-star Joy Bryant plays the inexplicably hot girl who is also part of Charlie’s former gang (for whatever reason); Smallville alum Michael Rosenbaum plays the caricature of the jealous ex-boyfriend with such aplomb it’s hard to hate him (easy to hate his character, though); while other famous faces pop up here and there in cameos that are either hilarious and sensible (Kristin Chenoweth and David Koechner), or awkwardly out of place (Beau Bridges).
‘Gang’s all here’ friend-films like Ocean’s 12 can be risky propositions, but Hit & Run manages to avoid being the worst of the bunch. As an action comedy, it’s a fairly good time; though whether it’s a good enough time for theater ticket price is highly debatable. If you’re a fan of any of the leads – or a pop-cult enthusiast who follows Shepard and Bell offscreen – this movie will deliver the charm. For more hardcore fans of the genre, this will more likely be a “hit it and forget it,” experience.
Hit & Run is now playing in theaters. It is Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic (elderly) nudity, some violence and drug content.