Dax Shepard co-directs, writes, edits, and stars in Hit and Run, which lands in theaters this weekend. There’s a taut, clever little action comedy buried somewhere in this bloated movie about a former getaway driver who dodges former criminal associates in a 1960’s muscle car as he tries to get his girlfriend to a life-changing job interview. With a more structured screenplay and some judicious editing, we might have been able to see that movie. As it stands, however, Hit and Run is pretty weak.
The story follows Annie and Charlie (Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard) as they leave their small town on a road trip to Los Angeles. Awaiting Annie is a potential job offer; awaiting Charlie are the criminal associates he left behind after ratting on them and entering the witness protection program. The couple ditch the U.S. Marshall assigned to protect Charlie (a hapless Tom Arnold) and hit the road in a badass Lincoln Continental. Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend follows in hot pursuit, but not before notifying Charlie’s former partner in crime, Alex (Bradley Cooper sporting a Rastafarian look). What follows ends up being something between a middle-of-the-road romantic comedy and a tepid action flick.
Surprisingly, Shepard displays a knack for writing. The scenes between Shepard and Bell come to life with clever, natural, free-flowing dialogue. Many of the verbal exchanges in Hit and Run show flashes of brilliance and are delivered by the actors in a manner that feels genuine and spontaneous. Several of the scenes almost feel as if they were written by the lovechild of Richard Linklater and Larry David.
The downside is that Shepard apparently realizes that he has an interesting voice as a writer and has refused to exercise any editorial control over his work. His screenplay lacks both structure and momentum. Several scenes go absolutely nowhere and add nothing to the story; they merely exist so that the characters can say something clever or witty. Some scenes, which start off fine, drag on for interminably long periods of time as characters continue to gab about nothing. As the movie plods on, Shepard’s dialogue wears out its welcome.
The action sequences of Hit and Run also fail to redeem the movie. There are only a couple of chase sequences in the feature, and they’re all less than thrilling. Shepard utilized many of his own vehicles here, and his reluctance to damage his own toys becomes apparent. Most of the movie’s action sequences conveniently take place on deserted dirt roads, in empty fields, and in vacant parking lots, and contain all of the thrill of watching a crash-free NASCAR race. The only car that actually gets totaled in Hit and Run is a crappy minivan driven by Tom Arnold.
Part of the thrill of action movies is getting to see characters get entangled in explosive, violent scenarios. For example, take Premium Rush: That chase movie, also released this weekend, relied heavily on potentially dangerous stunt work. There, characters pursued each other through a crowded cityscape, necessitating a series of death-defying action sequences. The stakes were elevated, because the characters were flying through a dynamic, dangerous environment, and the intensity of each scenario was clearly conveyed thanks to some expert stunt work on the part of the crew. In contrast, a scene in Hit and Run in which four automobiles spin doughnuts on an abandoned tarmac comes across as completely lethargic and consequence-free. I respect that Dax Shepard used his own cars in the service of his art, but that doesn’t excuse him from shooting such boring car chases.
All in all, Hit and Run is a mediocre movie that might have been great. It’s too talky to be an effective action movie and too reliant on action to be a decent romantic comedy. What we’re left with are some decent characters in need of a better movie.