"Hit And Run" Sputters To Life, Stalls In Final Lap

“Hit And Run” comes dangerously close to being one of the biggest surprises of the summer, but its overlong running time and inability to elicit frequent laughter keeps it from more than a passing grade. However, when you factor in the distinctively slapdash nature of the project, the fact that it’s watchable is a victory in itself. It’s a B movie with B movie stars and aspirations that never rise beyond “Let’s have fun on camera and hope that it translates onscreen.” More often than you’d expect, it does.

Dax Shepard has made a career out of playing slyly humorous but unassuming supporting roles, from a season on MTV’s “Punk’d” to his slovenly turn in Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy.” He’s stayed relatively busy during the last decade, but hasn’t come close to breaking out as a leading man. “Hit And Run” is his big screen debut as a writer, director, and lead, and the amount of charisma he brings to the proceedings is pretty astonishing. Shepard exudes the right balance of likability and recklessness, and overall, he possesses a disarmingly comfortable screen presence. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he gets to play off his real life fiancée for the entirety of the film.

Charlie Bronson (Shepard) is in witness protection, living with his girlfriend, Annie (Kristen Bell). His lifestyle is spectacularly mundane, except that he’s deeply in love and trying to leave his past behind – a troubled past that isn’t exactly spoken between the two. When Annie gets a job opportunity in Los Angeles, Charlie encourages her to go and offers to drive her, despite the risks that it poses.

The pair are trailed by a group of lively characters – a bumbling U.S. Marshal assigned to protect Charlie (Tom Arnold), Annie’s jealous ex (Michael Rosenbaum), and the oily criminal Charlie testified against (Bradley Cooper). When it’s revealed that Charlie wasn’t just a witness to a robbery but in fact the getaway driver, the dynamic between Shepard and Bell takes a turn. Charlie not only has to outrun his criminal past, but repair his relationship with Annie.

Bradley Cooper is a fine actor, but his villain here is as unthreatening an antagonist as I can recall. Instead of wanting Charlie dead, which is implied early on, he’s after something else – something far less intimidating. Tom Arnold wanders around in and out of the story, accidentally shooting up his minivan and appearing wherever his character can cause the most mischief. It isn’t much of a role, but he’s good for a couple of laughs. Unfortunately, lots of the humor falls flat so the film struggles when the action comes to a halt.

“Hit And Run” is at its best when it’s a car movie. The chase scenes are well-staged and cleanly edited, and the parallels between Charlie and his car are funny and relevant to the story. The cars are more interesting than most of the supporting characters, and for an indie movie, the combination of offbeat sometimes-comedy and action movie clichés is attention-grabbing. Alternately, the movie spins its wheels in its first and last twenty minutes, when the chase scenes are absent and the narrative is at its most disengaging.

It’s an original piece (increasingly uncommon these days) that’s a nice pseudo-debut for Shepard, and I expect him to get more chances in bigger roles going forward. This particular effort works in fits and starts, and even though it’s fairly forgettable, it’s an effective showcase for his talents. It’s a film that doesn’t have a lot going for it on the surface (aside from some inspired cameos) and the assertion that it’s kind of entertaining is faint praise, sure. But you could do far worse on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and sometimes that’s good enough.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: August 22, 2012
Studio: Open Road Films
Director: Dax Shepard, David Palmer
Screenwriter: Dax Shepard
Starring: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Beau Bridges, Kristin Chenoweth, David Koechner, Michael Rosenbaum, Joy Bryant, Ryan Hansen
MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content)