Film Review: Hit & Run

Perfect late-summer film fare: an uproarious and seriously romantic car romp which has something for the girls as well as the boys.

In Hit & Run, former getaway driver Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) finds himself on the run due to his witness-protection past, which suddenly blows up. The guys he ratted on to save himself from going to jail get loose, and vengefully pursue him and his girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie (Kristen Bell), whom he is driving to a job interview in Los Angeles. Also on their tail: the police and Annie’s a-hole of an ex-boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum).

This is, one supposes, technically a car-chase movie, but is it ever so much more! You can feel writer/co-director Shepard’s sheer love of the genre in every frame, and damn if he doesn’t make you actually take an interest in the car culture his film is so steeped in, which provides surprising textural grounding. More important, it is often a laugh riot, from the first scene of Charlie and Annie in bed, a jaw-dropping four minutes in which they run the emotional gamut from sexy to romantic to bickering and physical abuse. After this, you are almost fully willing to revel in whatever caper befalls this eminently likeable and fun couple, so pleasurable is their company.

The chase scenes themselves are shot and edited with dazzling virtuosity—indeed, the entire film looks a treat, vide Bradley Stonesifer’s smashing cinematography. That’s Shepard himself doing all the stunt work, and he and Bell, courageously ever in the passenger seat, make a terrific Bonnie and Clyde for the millennium. He has a hangdog dedication to both her and his wheels, making him a wonderfully original, fresh comic presence, while she, who rarely disappoints, gets to flesh out a female character that is so much more than the usual accessory in these things, with her irresistible charm, terrific timing and teeny-featured prettiness.

Although Shepard admits to revering the Smokey and the Bandit series, which inspired this, I think his film outstrips them all. Hit & Run has the antic, rich human spirit of all those Preston Sturges farces, with crazy characters running around and into each other. Shepard has populated his film with a crew of deliriously eager farceurs: Tom Arnold doing his now honed-to-a-fare-thee-well exasperated loser routine, Beau Bridges as Charlie’s dad, Jess Rowland as a funny gay cop, Bradley Cooper as a dreadlocked thug and, in her best screen outing yet, Kristin Chenoweth as a randy school administrator.

And, as mentioned in my interview with Shepard in this issue, he beats everyone to the punch with the first movie joke about the infamous app Grindr, which allows gay men to seek instant sexual partners in their immediate vicinity. Like so much else here, Shepard treats it inventively, just more comic grist for his revved-up mill.