Putting the Comedy in Car Chase
It’s a refreshing feeling to watch someone have fun at what they’re doing. That someone in this case is Dax Shepard, the notoriously deadpan comic actor, whose break came in the NBC dram-com television series Parenthood. He directs, along with David Palmer, writes, and acts in Hit and Run, an action comedy that’s out to have a good time, and not much more.
But who says having a good time isn’t worthwhile? Shepard, on a shoestring budget, rounds up his acting friends, including his current girlfriend Kristin Bell, and puts together a high-tempo game of car-chase, similar to the now late Tony Scott’s True Romance. The stakes aren’t as high but that doesn’t subtract any kinetic energy. Shepard says the film was inspired by Smokey and the Bandit and highlights his 700 horsepower muscle car, screeching and purring along the desert road. This isn’t necessarily an ode to the car movies of old, but certainly pays them visual tribute.
Shepard plays Yul Perkins, an ex-getaway driver for bank robbers now under witness protection and a fake name, Charlie Bronson. This is unbeknownst to his girlfriend Annie (Bell), with whom he lives in an isolated country home, until they engage in some revelatory conversations once things get haywire. She has just been offered an impassable teaching job in Los Angeles and Charlie decides to risk his identity to drive her there against the advice of his goofily qualified protection marshal (Tom Arnold).
Chaos is put into order when Annie’s ex, a lovesick hotshot (Michael Rosenbaum), decides to out Charlie by tailing them and posting his whereabouts to Charlie’s former gang (which most prominently includes a self-righteous, dreadlocked Bradley Cooper). They went to jail while Charlie got away and now avenge him in a three car chase, miscommunication rampant on all ends.
Bell, with her perky charm and naïve, carefree idealism, glues the film’s ragged edges. The most fervent comedy, besides the slapstick stylings of Arnold in “warm” pursuit, works through irony. Regardless of racecar speeds, Annie is more than willing to distract Charlie and their attempts at fleeing in order to assert her moral displeasure and indignation with him. She discusses the semantics of the word “fag” and uses allegorical argumentation to satisfy her non-violent, non-confrontational outlook and Ph.D. In this film, she preaches to a small choir.
And while small lessons of tolerance and second chances filter through the droll moments of car tag, the film’s strength, or ambition, is its motorized sequencing that serve plot occasionally and in most other times Shepherd’s desire to tread rubber. These add adrenaline rushes to a story that banks on a hybrid (an unseen car in this film) of wreckless hunts and incompetent lunacy. The cleaner moments involve Kristin Chenowith, who pushes pills on Annie and an odd appearance from Beau Bridges. Even he has to get into the action.
Amongst senior orgies, stray bullets, and a police officer’s wacky social network dating app called Pouncer, Hit and Run has surprising heart; one that beats irregularly, but keeps pumping out the funny. Charlie, or Yul, frequently must relax Annie to subdue her panic and fear about her teaching job. Relax; take a deep breath, and only worry about the here and now, he counsels. This is good advice for everyone watching as well. Sit back and enjoy the ride.