Sundance 2014 Review: David Cross’ Directorial Debut ‘Hits’ Internet Culture Just a Bit Too Softly

By  · Published on January 23rd, 2014

Newly-minted feature film director David Cross makes his stance on his debut film’s subject matter before a single image even flickers across the screen, as a title card announces “Based on a true story” before tacking on “that hasn’t happened yet.” Hits, the comedian’s first feature film as screenwriter and director, cleverly mocks and satirizes social media insanity, celebrity obsession, fame hunger, and most of what makes modern pop culture at large utterly ridiculous in a mostly neat little package.

Matt Walsh stars as small town shit-starter Dave Stuben, a disaffected citizen who spends most of his free time showing up at city council meetings and bitching about the latest government conspiracy to stiff its population. Dave may not be popular around town, but he’s about to make it big, all thanks to the Internet (and also YouTube and a pack of hipsters desperate for a cause).

Dave may not be actively seeking fame, but his twentysomething daughter sure is. Clearly, obsession runs in the Stuben family, because Katelyn (Meredith Hagner) lusts for the kind of fame that only exists in the pages of US Magazine. Mistakenly believing that she has a singing voice, Katelyn’s dream is to win The Voice, and she spends hours imagining the kind of interview she’ll have with Ellen DeGeneres after such a victory (it involves buzzwords like “Ryan Gosling” and “owl sanctuary”). Steeped in celebrity culture, Katelyn is willing to do anything to make her dream come true, even if it’s a dumb idea and she needs to hang out with jerks like Jason Ritter’s perfectly creepy Julian (who “has a recording studio in his house”) to make it happen.

Thanks to a hard-to-buy series events involving Michael Cera as a drug dealer who also happens to be the son of the city council president, moronic hipster Donovan (James Adomian, cannily combining social awkwardness and social justice) soon discovers Dave and makes it his mission to turn him into the kind of cause his idiot think tank (literally called “Think Tank”) needs to make it big, at least virally speaking. Dave’s complaints are random and scattered; he’s taken issue with just about everything that’s “wrong” in little Liberty, New York, from garbage collection to pothole repair. While Dave’s execution is abrasive and poorly thought-out, he actually does have some good points, and that’s exactly what Donovan and his merry band of “cidyots” extract to make their viral video.

Dave becomes an instant Internet star, and the effects of his newfound “fame” instantly spread outwards. Cross takes on just about everyone with his film, from guys like Dave who feel comfortable comparing a small town with bad snow plow control to “Berlin under Hitler” to do-nothing hipsters who latch on to whatever social cause they can appropriately hashtag to misguided children who just want to be famous for the sake of it. Hits is wide and wide-ranging, but it’s also extremely funny. Cross may be skewering, but he’s not exactly going for blood, and the film would perhaps benefit from a bit more bite, even if that limits the audience who go nuts for it.

Hits is just the kind of film that’s expected of a comedian like Cross, and his point of view and slightly skewed sense of humor are on display at every turn. The film may have a few stumbles around its middle, and Cross holds a trump card plot twist for far too late, but it’s generally well put-together and extremely entertaining. Hits may not be a hit, but it’s a damn fine start for Cross (and a damn fine rallying cry to stop hashtagging things and wearing dumb hats).

The Upside: Amusingly sends up Internet culture, consistently funny, the performances are solid, and it adeptly juggles multiple storylines (that, of course, eventually all intersect in a very spritely manner).

The Downside: The second and third acts routinely drive home the same point, a late-breaking twist should have occurred sooner, the tone is often muddled.

On the Side: Not only is Hits Cross’ feature directorial debut, the comedian has only ever directed two other things before – one episode of his beloved Mr. Show and one segment in the doc David Cross: Let America Laugh.

Follow along with all of our Sundance 2014 coverage right here