Dax Shepard’s “Hit and Run” is a lightly off-beat little movie that might be the right send-off for your cinematic summer. It is a star-studded road movie about real-seeming but comic characters seeking a buried treasure—in other words, a sort of small case “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
Screenplay writer, co-director, and leading man Shepard will be known to many moviegoers for his parts in “Without a Paddle,” “Let’s Go to Prison,” “When in Rome,” and “Employee of the Month.” His reality is always just slightly out of line with the dominant one in any film in which he appears.
In “Hit and Run” he plays a former bank robbers’ driver named “Yul Perkins” (after Yul Brynner) who, in witness protection, has adopted the name “Charlie Bronson.” He is in love with a teacher at the nearby rural community college, Annie (Kristen Bell). She has a chance for a last minute interview in Los Angeles for a job that is exactly suited to her academic preparation: as Head of a new department of Conflict Resolution.
There is some risk to Charlie if he returns to Babylon, as his former partners, Alan and Alex (Bradley Cooper with blonde dreadlocks) beat the murder rap on a technicality and are not in jail. But Charlie is willing to risk the exposure. This terrifies his protector, U.S. Marshall (Tom Arnold). Charlie and Annie drive off to the interview and king-klutz driver Arnold follows.
Annie knows nothing of Charlie’s criminal or family background. She doesn’t even know his ‘75 hot rod Lincoln runs. She just knows she has to get her teaching certificate (why?) from her old beau, who joins the parade toward L.A., driving a Pontiac two-seater, and that her boss (Kristin Chenoweth) has set up the interview.
Ex-beau’s brother is a homosexual cop. On his fancy cell phone is an “app” called “Pouncer.” It pinpoints, on a map, other users (of the same sexual orientation) inside a certain radius. The cop uses this high tech gay-dar to identify the marshal, who he follows.
And then Ex-beau has his brother identify Charlie through the Lincoln’s license tags. Web research shows Ex-beau Charlie’s criminal past and Alex’s phone number. Soon Alex and Alan (and Charlie’s old gun-moll fiancee) are following along in the train of cars.
Obviously Shepard is interested in cars. There are lots of driving and chase sequences in the film, and they all work pretty well. And the cars themselves, including a red Cadillac station wagon, a 700 horse-power all-terrain vehicle, and Arnold’s frequently damaged mini-van, are well-selected and amusing. Like a lot of Americans, Shepard communicates things about personalities by associating them with specific cars.
He also uses a lot of soul music and a Jimi Hendrix number, as well as a Pete Townsend tune that has closed at least a couple of other fairly recent movies. Shepard does better with the cars than with the pop songs.
Eventually we all end up out in a pasture on a farm owned by Charlie’s father (played by Beau Bridges) where the money is supposedly buried. And when Townsend starts repeating “Let my love open the door” over and over again, audience members will leave the theater thinking they’ve had a pretty good time during the showing.
The comedy in “Hit and Run” is near improvisational, the sort of stuff we got used to in Christopher Guest’s movies (like “Waiting for Guffman”) and, later, in movies made by the Judd Apatow cliche (like “Knocked Up”). The obliqueness of the humor no longer seems new. But “Hit and Run” is as a whole fairly fresh stuff.