Quick Take: Jon finds reasons to love and hate the new Dax Shepard car-themed flick.
Before the age of computerized fuel injectors, and eco-friendly exhaust manifolds, and built in GPS systems, cars were seen a symbol of masculinity. In classic films such as Cannonball Run, and Smokey and the Bandit, and Stoker Ace, the plot revolved around cars and racing, and people with dubious pasts, and there were extravagant chases every fifteen minutes or so. And in most cases, the cars were more famous than the actors in these films. Most people cannot even recall the plot of the movie Bullitt, but they know what make and model car Steve McQueen drove in it (hint: it was a Ford Mustang). But as time went on, those “car chase movies” seemed to go the way of the dodo, until Hit & Run.
In Hit & Run, Dax Shepard (TVs PUNK’d and Parenthood, and the films Idiocracy and Without a Paddle) stars as Charlie Bronson, a man living a peaceful life in the witness protection program after testifying against his partners in a series of bank robberies in Los Angeles. Charlie is in a relationship with Annie, played by Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, TVs Heroes and Veronica Mars), who works at the local community college. When a real teaching job opens up in her field at a major University in Los Angeles, Charlie has to leave the program to get Annie to L.A. in time for an interview, and in so doing, he risks the wrath of those he ratted out.
What ensues are crazy car chases, gunfights, humorous one-liners, full-frontal nudity, and Tom Arnold being… well, Tom Arnold. The action and chases come at such a clip that the movie sometimes struggles to find and grow its plot. But that may have been the point.
Written by Shepard, who also co-directed with David Palmer, Hit & Run kind of closes the door on a chance at a wider audience and seems destined to appeal to only fans of Classic Car Chase, or “car porn” films. There is also a unique fleet of cars in the film, unique in that 90% of them are General Motors vehicles. At one point, during a crazy chase at an abandoned airfield, one of the bad guys drops a comment on how well the 2011 Cadillac CTV-S station wagon is handling, which to me screamed “COMMERCIAL.”
Without trying to develop a plot, Shepard does excel at writing dialogue exchanges. The conversations between Charlie and Annie are realistic, and when he shoots for the funny, the jokes aren’t as obvious as you might think. In fact, the comedy in the film comes from the supporting cast, which includes Kristin Chenoweth as Annie’s boss, Michael Rosenbaum as Annie’s ex, Gil, and Bradley Cooper, as the dread-locked former partner-in-crime, Alex. There are other surprise cameos in the tiniest of roles, all adding to the fun factor.
Also, since driving and music seem to go hand in hand, Shepard and Palmer use the music in the soundtrack to its full advantage. It is a mix of 70s rock and car anthems, and one great rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’ performed by the great Lou Rawls.
Where the film loses itself is in the fact that the series of ideas aren’t connected to a coherent plot structure. What you see is what you get, and as the chase winds down, and the last plot point is revealed, it comes from left field, as there was no foreshadowing or set up. We are supposed to believe these bumbling bank robbers are smart enough to facilitate a major, multinational launder scheme and I did not buy it for a second. And yes, I am criticizing a “car porn” movie for its lack of story.
Hit & Run is a fun film, but it demands that you leave your thinking caps at the door. If you enjoy the revving of suped-up engines, and high-speed chases in a variety of locales, witty dialogue, and the occasional flash of naked human beings, then this is the film for you.
Hit & Run opens in theaters everywhere on August 22.