As someone who never learned how to drive, I have to admit that car movies rank pretty low on the totem pole of reliability. It’s hard to share in the gearheard porn that is the Fast & Furious movies when you can’t tell automatic from manual; that’s why I prefer my car movies in the ’70s mold: destructive, packed with brown-paneled cars and incompetent authority figures while remaining vaguely existential in nature.
Dax Shepard’s labour of love Hit & Run (he stars in, wrote, edited and co-directed the film) doesn’t quite hit the delirious heights of a Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, but it’s a surprisingly robust update of the genre.
Charlie Bronson (Shepard) agrees to drive his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell) to an important job interview in LA; only problem is, Charlie’s in the witness protection program, and the former best friends he testified against (Joy Bryant, Ryan Hansen and a bizarrely Adam Duritz-like, dreadlocked Bradley Cooper) would love to see him back on the old stomping grounds for a bit of revenge. Annie’s jealous ex (Michael Rosenbaum) makes a few phone calls, and they soon find themselves in a real humdinger of a chase, Charlie’s bumbling assigned marshal (Tom Arnold) in tow.
Shepherd and co-director David Palmer borrow liberally from the Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit) school of filmmaking while keeping it current and, surprisingly, never winking too broadly at their influences. Unfortunately, there’s a whole heap of them, and the film sometimes falters with its changes in tone. It’s hard to move seamlessly between an emotional scene between Bell and Shepherd (a real-life couple whose chemistry is actually felt on-screen) to one of Arnold’s countless slapstick moments to a violent shootout to an Apatowian discussion of prison rape.
Jarring tonal shifts aside, Hit & Run is a slight but entertaining entry in a genre that is quasi-extinct in the wake of CGI and The Rock jumping an 18-wheeler over a flaming plane full of orphaned puppies. Don’t expect a rebirth anytime soon, though. ■
Hit & Run opens Aug. 24.