Directors: David Palmer and Dax Shepard
Writers: Dax Shepard
Cast: Tom Arnold, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Beau Bridges, Joy Bryant, Kristin Chenoweth, Chris Cooper, Sean Hayes, David Koechner, Michael Rosenbaum, Jess Rowland, and Dax Shepard
It’s rare for me to find a couple to which I relate in mainstream Hollywood pictures, rarer still for me to find one in an indie chase flick called Hit and Run of all things. Here is another one of those comedies wherein the characters react in an implausibly casual manner to impossible situations. I confess that the gimmick will always get a laugh out of me, but, after nearly twenty years of Pulp Fiction (1994) knockoffs, I suspect I would have grown a bit weary here if the two protagonists hadn’t turned out so gosh darn likeable.
The setting: Annie (Kristen Bell), a small-town conflict resolution specialist, and Charlie (Dax Chepard), an LA getaway driver in witness protection, have been dating for a year. When the career opportunity of her dreams presents itself in the City of Angels, the lovers are faced with the dilemma of splitting up or spending the rest of their years resenting each other. She wants to stay with her boyfriend. He decides to risk his life and take her to the job interview. Things go awry from there, as Charlie’s former partners get word of his return, resulting in high octane car chases and, more to the point, lots of relationship talk during those car chases.
The running joke is that our heroes behave like two people moving in together rather than fighting for their lives. The charm lies in their expressing themselves like a real couple rather than rom-com protagonists. They misstep, forgive, indulge in passive-aggressive teasing, and use tension-dissolving expressions such as “it makes me feel like” and “I will work on”. We get what brought them together. He’s empowering when needed but also calls her on her crap. She makes him aspire to be a better person but also appreciates his insecurities. The two aren’t quite in synch yet, but, unlike Katherine Heigl characters, they’re willing to make compromises.
I genuinely like these people, which made spending an hour and a half with them a breeze. It helps that they behave in such a good-hearted manner with everyone, including often their antagonists. Consider the couple’s patience and understanding toward U.S. Marshal Randy (Tom Arnold), who keeps crashing his van and discharging his firearm in unlikely ways, or Charlie’s clumsy attempts to console his would-be killer Alex (Bradley Cooper) after learning he was sexually assaulted in jail. I laughed out loud throughout the scene not because I find rape jokes funny (take that, Tosh) but because his increasingly offensive comments reflect a genuine human impulse to try to minimise a tragedy in the hopes of making it better somehow.
It occurs to me some of you may get the impression of one of those freestyle comedy hybrids so popular in August, by which I mean a series of conversational set pieces loosely connected by a clichéd genre. In fact, Hit and Run proves deceptively well plotted, juggling a plethora of characters without ever making their appearances feel superfluous. When Beau Bridges shows up in the third act to play Charlie’s father, we get a sense of payoff rather than of a cheap cameo because early exchanges have established him as an important figure in our hero’s life.
By the same token, Alex’s altercation with a bodybuilder at the supermarket could have been treated as a throwaway gag. Instead, Hit and Run uses the scene to introduce its villain’s inconsistent ethics, making it difficult to gauge his plans for the friend who testified against him. I’m surprised how much affection I have for his crew, given the lot’s sociopathic tendencies. Even his right-hand man (Ryan Hansen), a quiet martial arts expert who never gets to use his kung fu, sort of grew on me. The only character I’d consider an outright douche bag is Annie’s ex, Gil, but Michael Rosenbaum portrays him as so adorably hapless I still enjoyed every second he was onscreen.
Plenty more characters show up, all played by friends of Dax Chepard, who also wrote and co-directed the film. I’m not surprised he managed to rope in such talent as Jason Bateman, Kristin Chenoweth, Sean Hayes, and, to a lesser extent, Joy Bryant, his co-star from Parenthood. Despite its generic title, Hit and Run is a smart, sweet project with awesome cars, kick-ass stunts, great characters, and loads of juicy lines. I get the feeling everyone had tremendous fun making this movie, and, hey, I had a good time watching it.