POPCORN: ‘Hit and Run’

“Hit and Run”

A Movie Violation

By Michael S. Goldberger

Observer correspondent

Curiously mediocre acting and drab production standards mark David Palmer and Dax Shepard’s “Hit and Run,” which also scores lousy in the script department. The same old raucous tale of contrived redemption, its protagonist is Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard), a former getaway driver who steers into true love while in the witness protection program.

It’s great if you really aren’t in the mood for a movie, but somehow wander into a theater showing this so-called action-comedy starring Kristen Bell as the pretty afflatus to Charlie’s rehabilitation. Nothing here will disrupt your daydreaming. So go ahead, plan that home project or a shorter route to the spices of the East. You won’t miss a thing.

Conversely, for those who like to make lemonade out of lemons, this provides ample opportunity. If you pay attention despite the nonstop rummaging through tired routines, you may mine a jewel or two. Well, more like costume jewelry. But the film does have a swagger to it and, deliberate or through dumb luck, strikes an occasionally amusing note.

“Hit and Run” features itself a cutting edge peek at today’s desperadoes. These aren’t like your father’s gangsters… Edward G. and Co. on the lam between jobs, playing cards under a bare incandescent in a threadbare apartment/hideout. No such luck. While every bit as contemptible as their predecessors, these guys probably drink lattes.

Still, we like Charlie, a seemingly good guy who, because of some tragic flaw, went bad. OK, so he ratted out his partners in crime to plea himself into exile. On the other hand, he claims to have found the love of his life, often considered proof in literature and the movies that the guy can’t be all bad. Call him the new, discounted antihero.

Invoking the loophole accorded Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables,” we figure Dax Shepard’s reluctant outlaw is a consequence of today’s socioeconomic landscape. Maybe America’s political divide had its souring effect, too. No matter, Kristen Bell’s Annie Bean thinks he’s very sweet.

A graduate assistant with her sights set on a Ph.D. in conflict resolution, of course she doesn’t have a clue as to Charlie’s true identity…at least not yet. That comes when the plot downshifts with a clunky, grinding transition and the movie turns into one continuous, unimpressive car chase. It begins with Charlie trying to prove himself.

Sure, the dude could have just stayed in hiding, safe from his treacherous confederates. But when Annie suddenly has to get to an all-important job interview in L.A., it’s Dax’s big chance to display his driving talent, whilst essentially intoning, “Tis a far, far better thing I do.” Naturally, there’s no shortage of folks who would deter their progress.

This includes Tom Arnold as Randy Anderson, the hapless federal marshal who is supposed to be watching over Dax. You can guess how that plays. Also in the hunt is Michael Rosenbaum as Gil Rathbinn, Annie’s conscienceless former beau. But the one to really watch out for is Dax’s scurrilous, bank robbing pal.

Portrayed by Bradley Cooper, he is Alex Dmitri, a scummy, leering sociopath palling around with Dax’s old gal (Joy Bryant) and hell-bent on revenge. A ragtag collection of other pursuers, some intentional, some by happenstance, round out the cat and mouse gambit, resulting in a very, very poor man’s version of “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977).

Car folks who enjoy a little sheet metal and plastic in their films will find strange the uninspired auto casting. Dax tools around in a black, 1967 Lincoln with a 700 HP motor (yawn) he and his dad built. Whereas Randy’s feeble rambling in an incongruous minivan reminds of Roy Rogers’s sidekick Pat Brady careening in old Nellybelle, the Willys Jeep.

Meant to be more serious, but a rather odd product placement if GM actually paid for it, is the red, Cadillac CTS-V Wagon in which Dmitri and gang thrash about with menacing abandon. Yeah, it’s sharp enough, but what’s the point? It’s bad? Again a yawn. Even the new Corvette that Dax, the reformed crook, uh, appropriates, doesn’t help matters.

For alas, whether real or computer generated, the automotive derring-do, perfunctory and lacking artistry, fails to compensate for the dull-minded dramatics it intersperses. This embarrassingly renders us a car chase movie with nary a truly surprising or hair-raising moment. Miss Bell’s sociologist, psychologist, or whatever she is, can’t pick up the slack.

She’s the goody two shoes, ensconced in behavior she’s heretofore only read about in case histories. In stretching to feature length proportions her much anticipated decision — whether or not to believe Dax is inherently good — it results in the cinema equivalent of a traffic jam. Thus, your movie GPS advises you take a detour around “Hit and Run.”

“Hit and Run,” rated R, is an Open Road Films release directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard and stars Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell and Bradley Cooper. Running time: 100 minutes