By Armond White
Dax Shepard, the lead actor, co-writer (with David Palmer) and co-director of Hit & Run, aims for the bleachers. He’s made a lowest common denominator comedy with a road movie premise about Charlie, a guy who leaves his witness protection location in rural California to transport his girlfriend Annie to a job interview in Los Angeles. The road trip becomes a chase not simply with the criminals he was hiding from but also from his past.
Forced to reveal his former identity, Charlie’s journey exposes the differences in his relationship with Annie (Kristin Bell) which turns the film into a series of class confrontations, contrasting female politically correctness with male survival instincts. She’s a social pedagogue with a degree in conflict resolution from Stanford and he’s a motor-loving, former getaway driver. Movie contrivances don’t come more transparent than this. Hit & Run is only interesting for showing the distance we’ve traveled since road movies in the 1970s and ’80s explored American habits and character. Here character and behavior are made-up and manipulated just plot contrivance.
Charlie was obviously named for the yuppie Jeff Daniels played in Jonathan Demme’s 1986 Something Wild (despite a tony reference to British criminal Charles Bronson), but Shepard and Palmer fail to connect the sense of personal naivete to cultural experience that made Demme’s film a classic about national aspiration. Demme’s road movie comedy was classic multiculti zeitgeist film about the spiritual transformation possible in the American circumstances of social mobility. Hit & Run emphasizes smart-ass plot twists and violent action sequences no better than a TV pilot.
Shepard achieves a TV actor’s one-dimensional caricature, a flatness shared with Bell’s hollow-eyed tk, so unlike Melanie Griffith’s desperately emotional Audrey in Something Wild. Shepard and Bell’s superficiality matches the over-eclectic music score which evokes no region or sensibility. Background characters used to supply road movies with a democratic sense of place but Hit & Run features a Keystone Kops relay of clowns from criminals to cops that betrays a TV-based simplistic view of personality. There’s a reckless sense of social interaction that condescends to Americans’ current, bewildered sense of self.
Hit & Run features one of the ugliest movie scenes this year when Bradley Cooper as a nemesis from Charlie’s past puts a dog leash around a man’s neck, then beats and humiliates him. It suggests alarming insensitivity that the scene’s racial conflict goes unaddressed. (Charlie later does an odd spiel on feminizing racial projection.) Manipulative “comedy” like this (derived no doubt from the cynicism of Cooper’s Hangover movies) suppresses genuine social frustration. This problem was made clear when a Village Voice reviewer singled-out the quasi-lynching scene but only complained about its failure to sympathize with the black character’s possible impoverished social circumstances. Insensitivity compounded by condescension. Somehow they go together, a cultural hit and run.
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