Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) has something of a troubled past. For starters, his real name isn’t even Charlie Bronson, that’s the one he chose after he was put into witness protection for ratting out the bank robbers he was working for as a getaway driver. All of that unpleasantness is behind him now though, as he’s built a nice, quiet life in a nice, quiet town, and he has a girlfriend that he’s very much in love with (Kristen Bell). Problem is, his girlfriend doesn’t know about his past, and she’s just gotten a new job that’s going to force Mr. Bronson to move back to the town where his ex-partners (led by a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper) are waiting to kill him. Wacky situations, fast-driving, and a dangerous game of cat and mouse that also involves his witness protection officer (Tom Arnold) and his girlfriend’s crazy ex (Michael Rosenbaum) ensue.
The best thing about Hit & Run is how likable the performances are. But the strongest of them aren’t coming from the actors who you may expect. Shepard and Bell get most of the film’s focus, and they’re largely enjoyable as the protagonists, but they’re playing the most boring characters who appear. True, they’re dealing with career stuff, clingy ex-boyfriends, and attempted murders that all act as big stumbling blocks in their path to potential happiness, but they’re never all that vexed by anything that they’re going through. They’re too thoroughly the perfect guy and the perfect girl to be all that put out by the extreme situations they’re in, and you get the sense that’s largely because of how much in love with being in love Dax Shepard is.
If you didn’t know, he’s the writer/co-director of this film, and he wrote the leads for himself and his real life fiancee, Bell. They’ve got a natural, easy chemistry together, for sure, but after a while their deep connection gets featured so prominently in the film, to the detriment of everything else, that Hit & Run starts to feel a little like a love letter to themselves. If this movie was about a guy and a girl who had serious flaws to overcome, it might have been a step more interesting. Instead it seems to mostly be about how awesome Shepard and Bell’s relationship is, and that robs the story of some stakes.
But the side characters still manage to make this thing shine. Slightly disappointing is Cooper, who lends the film the most star power but seems generally disinterested as the villain of the piece. He gets a couple funny gags and he’s dressed ridiculously, but you get the sense that putting on a wig and paying vague tribute to Tony Scott’s True Romance was the furthest he was willing to go in playing unhinged. Arnold is great as the federal agent though. He’s bumbling and slapsticky, which could potentially get annoying real quick, but he pulls it off with aplomb. The secret ingredient is his willingness to look like a complete idiot and show an uncomfortable amount of vulnerability. Arnold has been said to be a handful to deal with on set, but he should get more work than he does.
Rosenbaum is similarly delightful as the crazy ex-boyfriend. The character’s ignorance and arrogance are absolutely insufferable, and Rosenbaum cranks them up to 11. Names like Kristin Chenoweth, David Koechner, Beau Bridges, and Ryan Hansen show up and kill it in small moments as well. The thing that separates Hit & Run from other action comedies is that every character, no matter how small, has a personality and a motivation. Nobody is here to just show up and spew exposition. That, consequently, gives the film personality as well.
But sometimes the personality gets out of control. Shepard’s script is generally clever and full of heart, but at times it becomes far too clever and far too full of heart. The dialogue is overwritten. Quotable quips and moving speeches abound, to the point where sometimes it feels like you’re watching a collage of other scripts’ greatest hits. All of the characters vomit mouthfuls of dialogue, which continues long past the point where the thing they’re trying to say has already been conveyed to the audience. Bell is an actress who I’ve seen deliver plenty of wordy monologues without breaking a sweat before, and even she seemed to have trouble running through the tire obstacle of words in some of these scenes. Shepard’s script shows that he has promise as a screenwriter, but if there’s any bit of constructive criticism that could be given to him, it’s that less is more. Let the actors do more with their emoting and less with your words.
That’s quibbling for a film that’s generally this much fun though. Hit & Run is funny, has some decent chase scenes, and its pacing and structure are impeccable. There are a lot of players that Shepard’s plot puts into play, and they’ve all got different angles to work, which makes the story a tangled web of fun, like some sort of souped up episode of Three’s Company, but it never gets bogged down in its own complications. Shepard puts a lot of balls in the air, but he’s always able to juggle them, and the momentum of the movie just keeps on trucking.
Which is good, because Hit & Run is mostly about celebrating the art of the car chase and giving its characters excuses to riff quips, so it didn’t want to linger. The best action movies are able to cobble together some character development on the run, and this action comedy is able to flesh everyone out and tell a complete story without ever cutting back on the burnouts.
The Upside: If you’ve been craving a movie that fetishizes cars, but isn’t awful (either unintentionally or in a self-aware, ironic way), then Hit & Run is the film for you.
The Downside: Shepard is still new to making his own movies, and there’s a clunkiness that comes from being new to the writer/director world. Here it manifests itself through a plot that relies on a few too many coincidental conceits and dialogue scenes that play as being self-indulgent.
On the Side: Not only did Shepard cast his real fiancee as his love interest and his real best friend as his sole confidant in this film, but he’s also driving around his own custom car. More than anything, Hit & Run feels like an excuse for its maker to get paid for hanging around with the people he loves and drive his car recklessly…and there’s something about that that’s kind of awesome.