On the surface, Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) has a great life. He lives in a tiny town in California with his beautiful girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell), a teacher at the local community college. When she gets the offer of a dream job in Los Angeles, Charlie will not let her turn it down, even though there’s a complication.
As it turns out, Charlie is Yul Perkins, a bank robbery getaway driver turned witness for the prosecution who is in the witness protection program. Yul has enemies, specifically Alex Dimitri (Bradley Cooper), his former best friend and now bitter enemy. There’s also Annie’s old boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), who is bound and determined to follow the two to LA. Also in tow is Randy (Tom Arnold), Charlie’s federal marshal and designated protector.
What unfolds is a ramshackle chase through the beautiful California countryside, punctuated by relationship drama, interpersonal conflicts, and a cast of very colorful characters in very cool cars. Not quite action, not quite comedy, and not quite relationship drama, but somewhere in between all three genres in an interesting mash-up of styles and ideas.
You can tell this movie is a passion project for Dax Shepard. After all, he directed (with David Palmer), wrote, edited, and starred in the flick. Alongside him is his real-life best friend Bradley Cooper, his wife Kristen Bell, and probably every other friend he has in Hollywood (like Tom Arnold and Michael Rosenbaum). The movie definitely reflects that. It has a particular feel, like when you have friends that make a movie and screen it for you. It’s charming and shaggy, and has a certain easy charm that helps forgive its flaws.
The movie does have its flaws, though. Shepard was the film’s editor, and it kind of shows as he seems loathed to trim the movie at points where it could stand to be pulled back. It’s only 100 minutes long, but if it were under 90, I think it could be leaner and more effective. It plays like it was edited by the writer and director. It’s not that it’s a bad feeling, but some people hate cutting stuff they like even when it doesn’t work for the movie, and I think Hit And Run could do with a chop or two.
Still, Shepard and Palmer aren’t a bad directing team. The movie has some very good car-based action, but it’s also not intense. It’s the opposite of rival new release Premium Rush, and it plays pretty relaxed, even in the midst of a car chase. Most of the $2 million budget ends up on screen, no doubt in the form of that supercharged Lincoln Continental Charlie/Yul drives. According to the scuttlebutt I’ve read, the cars in the movie are Dax’s cars and he did the stunt driving himself; in several scenes, the camera takes great pains to make sure that the audience can see Dax and Kristen are in the car during chases.
In a sense, that’s a good thing. The movie’s leisurely editing gives the actors room to exhale and allows the character connections to grow organically. It also doesn’t rush the film’s dialogue, which is one of the film’s strengths. It feels like real people having real conversations; the scenes with Shepard and Bell are some of the movie’s real strong points, and they feel like real couple conversations (when you’re past the falling-in-love stages and are in the planning-your-life stages). This may be Kristen Bell’s best vehicle since Veronica Mars, and she takes advantage of it. Some of the acting choices, like Tom Arnold’s bumbling federal marshal, are a bit odd, but one of the things that seems to make it all work is that the actors tack towards the Airplane! model of playing scenes straight and adding intensity. That makes a lot of the movie’s verbal comedy work, where a lot of the more blatant physical comedy fall flat.
Hit and Run is not a perfect movie, but it is definitely a labor of love. It’s messy, but fun and charming. It seems like one of those movies where the people making it had a blast, and those results come through onscreen.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to get $2 million to make a movie starring all my friends, even though my friends aren’t as talented as Dax Shepard’s pals. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.