Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hit & Run

HIT & RUN (David Palmer and Dax Shepard, 2012)

The choice Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) faces in HIT & RUN is tough but simple. He can support his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell) and move with her to Los Angeles, where she is virtually assured of getting her dream professorial job if she makes the scheduled interview, or Charlie can let her go and end a meaningful relationship so he stays safe and secure 500 miles away in witness protection in Milton, California.  She’s willing to sacrifice the opportunity to remain with him, but he can’t allow that to be an option.

While Annie knows her boyfriend is under the watch of bumbling U.S. marshal Randy Anderson (Tom Arnold), she doesn’t know the extent of Charlie’s past.  He was a getaway driver who testified against his friends and accomplices.  He’s been away from L.A. for four years and now goes by an assumed name, but returning to his old stomping grounds could still be dangerous.  Charlie throws caution to the wind, eases his 1967 black, custom-built Lincoln Continental out of storage, and sets out for the big city with his best gal.  

The car is in impeccable condition.  It’s also the one thing that can connect Charlie to his history.  Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend Gil (Michael Rosenbaum) has long been suspicious of Charlie, so when he sees him leaving town with her in the Continental, he calls in the license plate number to his police officer brother Terry (Jess Rowland). From the license plate Gil learns Charlie’s real name, which he uses to dig up news of his old partners in crime and inform dreadlocked Alex Dmitri (Bradley Cooper) that his turncoat pal is coming their direction.  What was to be an inconspicuous return trip becomes a chase, with Gil, Alex and associates, the police, and exasperated fed Randy on the lookout for Charlie and Annie.
There’s no mistaking HIT & RUN as a showcase piece for co-director, writer, and co-lead Shepard, but it’s not the one expected from its set-up.  He’s made a chatty romantic comedy with bitchin’ cars and coarse humor rather than the action movie it might be mistaken for at face value.  Shepard grants equal respect to the mechanics of relationships and automobiles in accommodating the unknown history that comes with being involved with a new person or a used vehicle.  Unlike a lot of relationship-based films, this one understands the need for accepting the mileage that can’t be rolled back.

While the discursive nature of the screenplay can stall HIT & RUN a little too often, the conversational detours often rate as the best parts.  Charlie and Annie’s pillow talk in the opening scene performs spectacularly in establishing their personalities and vulnerabilities.  While on the road their discussion about what he considers an inoffensive use of a slur and her objection to it beautifully and humorously dissects language and intention.  Alex’s shared opinion and object lesson on dog food stands among the comedic highlights while giving shading to the film’s ostensible villain.

Shepard has consistently proven to be a funny but often underappreciated contributor in supporting roles.  His performance ought to draw attention to the appealing, offbeat actor he is.  As a writer and director Shepard proves to be generous with the other actors. (Co-director David Palmer surely deserves credit in this area too.)  Bell, his off-screen partner, receives one of her best roles since VERONICA MARS ended.  HIT & RUN’s Annie is more than a stock girlfriend who needs to be saved or is holding back the male protagonist.  Bell’s timing is sharp in the comedic give and take, and she sells the equality and emotional stress in her relationship with Charlie.  Cooper does weird and funny work without running wild.  HIT & RUN isn’t always a smooth ride, but the quirks and misfires make it as distinctive as the actor behind many of the film’s creative choices.      

Grade: B-

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