Late summer used to be a dumping ground for movies that studios had no faith in.
Lately it’s become easier to find a good movie in the dog days. There’s still a bunch of crap; but so many more movies come out now than 20 years ago, that the law of averages dictates some late August releases must be worth seeing.
Just because Hit & Run hits theaters now doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s not necessarily good, either. However, there are enough solid laughs and stunt driving to make one gloss over the many things about it that don’t work.
The lead, Dax Shepard, works. He wrote the screenplay, co-directed, is a likeable leading man as Charlie Bronson (really), and, though it’s a stretch, a woman like Kristen Bell’s Ph.D.-holding, college-course-teaching Annie loves him (they’re together in real life). Why not play along? Plus, Bell has the goods, whether she’s Sarah Marshall, Craig Ferguson’s sidekick or Annie the fell-in-love-with-an-ex-criminal college professor.
It goes like this: Charlie robbed banks but is in witness protection for testifying against his cohorts. He and Annie live in a dull town in California’s Central Valley. She gets a job offer to teach at UCLA and head her own department. Charlie can’t return to Los Angeles because that’s where his criminal past waits for him, but he’s not going to insist that Annie pass up her dream job. They hit the road. Crazy stunts ensue.
There’s been better movie driving, but these stunts have the benefit of not being CGI-enhanced. Those cars take real corners and jump ditches. Bell and Shepard have chemistry and they’re funny together. However, Hit & Run hits some snags by following the Die Hard formula of making nearly every supporting character a moron or asshole. That’s OK when your leads are Willis and Rickman. With Shepard, it’s a stretch.
Put simply: Tom Arnold’s character, Randy, Charlie’s witness protection minder, is possibly the dumbest law enforcement officer in movie history. How this guy is alive, let alone employed, is a complete mystery.
Bradley Cooper, an actor whose mass appeal eludes me, plays a former friend of Charlie’s looking to kill him and take his money. Fine. But we’re introduced to him as he throws a dog leash around an African American guy’s neck and then drags him through a parking lot.
The scene is supposed to establish Cooper as a twisted tough guy, but it makes the filmmakers look as if they don’t understand the implications of such imagery. There are also a million prison rape jokes. A half-million would have sufficed.
And, how small is California? How do these people keep running into each other so easily?
Despite all that, the driving, Bell and Shepard (and a late appearance by a taciturn Beau Bridges) make this one of the better late summer movies. Just don’t think about it too much.
Directed by Dax Shepard and David Palmer / With Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell and Bradley Cooper. Regal Santa Fe Stadium 14, R, 100 min.