I didn’t have much expectation going in to Hit and Run. While I’ve been a long-time fan of Dax Shepard (not to mention his co-star and real-life lady Kristen Bell), and I knew nothing about the movie, other than the poster featured a sweet car. What I saw was a movie far more entertaining that I was expecting, as Hit and Run pulls off a deft balancing act between over-the-top comedy, very competent car action and lots of refreshingly realistic, funny dialogue between our two protagonists.
Shepard, who not only stars and directed the movie but also wrote it, plays Charlie Bronson, a laid back, perfectly nice-seeming guy cut from the same cloth as the actor’s role on Parenthood, who for reasons unexplained has wound up living a secluded life in witness protection. When his girlfriend Annie, a nonviolent conflict specialist, gets an offer for the job of her dreams in Los Angeles, Charlie has to make a tough call– let her go while he stays in his drab world of witness protection, or risk uncovering his own past by taking her to LA.
It doesn’t take much for Charlie to agree to escort his gal to the city for her interview, but no sooner do they hit the road, in Charlie’s ’67 Lincoln, than his past starts to resurface. Charlie’s been keeping a pretty big secret– he’s in witness protection because he used to be the getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers, and he sent his associates up the river to avoid going to jail! When his former gang, headed by a shockingly entertaining Bradley Cooper, find out he’s heading home, they come after the couple on the road… as do the incompetent Federal Marshal assigned to protect Charlie, and and Annie’s possessive ex boyfriend Gil.
The plot takes some nice twists as the various characters play an ongoing game of cat and mouse on the road to LA, but what really made this movie shine for me was the sharp, witty dialogue delivered with absolute charm by Shepard and Bell. There’s a great chemistry between the two (probably a good thing, based on their real-world relationship), and many of their lines, from one-off comments to full-blown arguments, have a quirky realism to them that ground both characters nicely, despite the increasingly crazy situation they find themselves in. My favorite kinds of stories tend to feature real, believable characters in an unbelievable situation, and that’s exactly what we get here– Charlie and Annie are adorable and identifiable, and you really want to see them make it through this sea of craziness with their relationship intact.
The comedy is well-paced throughout, and Shepard has a great sense of escalation. While the first half of the movie establishes the characters and kicks off the plot with some light, silly laughs, the comedy picks up in step with the action, leading to some amazingly raunchy, laugh-out-loud scenes that were among the funniest I’ve seen on the big screen all year. Even with the trailers unwisely giving a few too many big moments, I dare anyone to not break out laughing when the “Lemon Party” makes their on-screen debut. Likewise, Shepard proves his action chops with a series of well-executed car chase scenes, all featuring some pretty awesome cars, owned by the self-described gearhead.
In addition to the charming leads, Shepard fills out his cast with some great, oddball characters all portrayed very well by many of his personal friends (who worked on this self-funded project for scale). Tom Arnold is pathetically hilarious as Randy, the complete hot mess of a Fed, whose “protection” seems more likely to get Charlie killed than the vengeful gang of bank robbers. Bradley Cooper’s Alex, leader of the robbers who got put away when Charlie got away, reminds us how funny he can be when he gets into a role. With his Venice Beach dreadlocks and Hunter Thompson glasses, Alex is both wildly ridiculous and genuinely threatening– he’s Skrillex as a gangster instead of a mediocre musician. It’s a refreshing change of pace for the usually jockish Cooper, made even more impressive by the fact that he chose the outlandish look personally. Alongside his fellow jilted crooks Neve and Allen, there’s a very real, albeit bizarre menace to the villains, and even some off-kilter sympathy as the real reason for Alex’s burning desire for revenge comes to light.
Hit and Run is a light kind of movie, but I don’t mean that as a dig– there’s a level of effortlessness that keeps the movie moving forward at a steady, confident speed. It’s a movie that’s visibly comfortable juggling so many genres, and it does so pretty damn well, delivering some fierce laughs, solid car action and a cast of quirky, yet believable characters. Considering this was Shepard’s first time directing– and that he self-funded the project with his own cars, his own actor pals and no studio money– I think it’s safe to say we’ve discovered another actor whose resourceful skills are just as great behind the camera as in front of it.