One of the biggest joys of writing about film comes from the occasional love affair with an independently-produced little gem that thrives on a pressed shooting schedule and reduced budget while still managing to find creatively-conceived ways to entertain without the corrupting influence of studio suits. And while Hit & Run certainly falls in that category with a production budget of just $2 million, unfortunately there’ll be no love affair with this broken- down jalopy that blows an engine before it ever crosses the starting line.
Hit & Run is the brainchild of Dax Shepard (of Parenthood fame) and David Palmer who co-direct the film about Charlie Bronson (Shepard), an oddly mild-mannered tough guy laying low in a sleepy central California town as a ward of the Federal Witness Protection Program. When he finds out his wholesome girlfriend, Annie (Kristen Bell) has a promising new job opportunity in Los Angeles, Charlie decides to drive her there, but not before his real identity -- and subsequently, the reason he is under protection in the first place -- is revealed not only to Annie, but to a former fellow bank robber buddy Alex (Bradley Cooper), against whom Charlie had to testify in order to avoid going to jail.
Ironically, Annie works in the field of non-violent conflict resolution, a skill that gets put to the test early and often as she and Charlie head out for LA with a gang of bumbling misfits and criminals, including a whiny Tom Arnold as Charlie’s incompetent US Marshal, in tow.
The film shifts into high gear when real-life couple Shepard and Bell are on screen together sharing tender moments of touching banter. Their natural chemistry is undeniable. Conversely, the film suffers when the action hits the road and we’re forced to endure the dopey shenanigans of a dreadlocked Cooper and his entourage hell-bent on tracking down their nemesis. Shepard’s script never gets the tone of this thread right, for Alex and his two henchmen -- played by Jess Rowland and Joy Brant -- aren’t scary enough to counter their goofiness with a distressing sense of danger. Neither is the film genuinely funny enough to be anything more than a silly slapstick comedy without much stick to slap. All too often a scene ends with what was to be a laugh-out-loud exchange while the audience sits in discomforting silence.
Hit & Run clearly wants to be mentioned alongside many of the bad-ass car chase movies like Bullit and Vanishing Point. And with a souped-up 1967 Black Lincoln Continental (which belongs to Dax Shepard in real life), the makings are there for the boss car to become the star of the show and a genuine scene-stealer. Unfortunately, the miniscule budget didn’t afford the filmmakers the opportunity to choreograph very elaborate chase sequences, so they often fail to find any real traction. Even with classic rock heavies like Dylan’s "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and Aerosmith’s "Sweet Emotion" playing behind slo-mo scenes of smoking tires and flying gravel, it’s not enough to overcome the extended sequences of cars doing nothing more exciting than peeling out and driving fast on deserted country roads.
Despite its many cult-movie elements, low budget sensibilities, and a cast and crew hell-bent on creating a cool little genre throwback with a contemporary sense of humor, Hit & Run too often just sits in neutral, gasping for something to do next. All too often that means more Tom Arnold.
(Released by Open Road Films and rated "R" for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.