Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Hit & Run (2012)

Hit & Run is a low-budget action-comedy car chase film that has a slew of influences and yet seems to be entirely the product of its writer, co-producer, co-director, co-editor and star Dax Shepard, who has also cast fiancée Kristen Bell and mate Bradley Cooper.

Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard), whose name comes more from the infamous British prisoner than the stone-faced star, is in Witness Protection, hiding out in Milton, California, with his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell) and his bungling US Marshal protector Randy (Tom Arnold). Annie is a professor at the local college and has a doctorate in Non-Violent Conflict Resolution from Stanford. Instead of laying her off, her advisor Debbie (Kristen Chenoweth) gets her a job interview at a new Conflict Resolution faculty in the University of California in Los Angeles. Annie initially refuses to leave Charlie yet he decides to drive her there anyway.

Charlie cannot return to Los Angeles for fear of reprisals from Alexander Dmitri (Bradley Cooper), a former partner who was set to prison on Charlie’s evidence. However, it has been four years and Annie’s once-in-a-lifetime job is worth the risk. However, Annie’s jealous ex Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), suspicious of Charlie’s motives, follows them. He finds out Charlie’s real name and contacts Alexander. Alexander and his band of hoodlums are soon on Charlie’s trail.

Hit & Run most obviously refers back to such chase films as Smokey and the Bandit and Midnight Run, though there are a host of allusions. One musical cue during a romantic moment would recall the criminal lovers on the run classic Badlands where it not for the fact that the film seems more familiar with True Romance, which quotes the same music. The use of an LA storm drain could be a nod to either Grease or Point Blank. Charlie’s real name is Yul, in reference to Yul Brynner – apparently no one younger than Beau Bridges has ever heard of him. The references do not really add much to the film, but they do help position it as light nostalgia, making sure that its audience won’t expect too much.

As nostalgia, the film is neither funny nor exciting. As a car chase film, the car chases themselves are quite uninspiring. They are put together with a jittery editing style that makes them both confusing and distancing. You never feel that you are in the car with Charlie and Annie, nor do you feel that their driving is all that exhilarating. The chases feel like regressions after Tarantino’s awful but for the final car chase vanity project Death Proof. However, Hit & Run’s primary mode is Sunday afternoon light entertainment and anything too exciting or anything suggesting that the couple might be a danger might break the mood. Similarly, the film is never quite funny; it nods in that direction but never delivers on any laughs. An early sequence involving Randy shooting his own car could possibly have been funny except for the fact that it is not clear why he is shooting his car. Kristen Chenoweth does a spiel about Xanax as if Woody Allen never picked up a pen. The film’s opening scene tries for idyllic and touching romance and light comedy but comes off awkward and tacky. A surprising revelation that explains why Alexander feels so aggrieved is over-extended. Hit & Run is silly and freewheeling and yet it is heavily restrained in many ways.

Having said that, the film is, in retrospect, somewhat likeable. Annie’s doctorate in Non-Violent Conflict Resolution means that Charlie is not allowed to use violence for fear that he might disrespect her self-created degree. Following one frustrating confrontation with Gil, Charlie has to make do with covering him in exhaust smoke and dust. Later, while someone is checking out Charlie’s prized car – about which there is a lot of chatter – Charlie is foolish enough to use the word ‘fag’ for which he is reprimanded and forced to apologize. On top of that, there are a few gay characters in the film who, though primarily comic relief, are presented fairly realistically and certainly non-judgementally – probably the film’s only diversion from already-covered ground. The ending is similarly surprising since the film’s climax has more to do with Charlie helping out his girlfriend than with settling any old scores. It makes for a rather unsatisfying ending but it is a welcome change from the glut of redemption through carnage films that leave a bad taste in your mouth. Typically, Annie remains a woman entirely dependent on men, presumably the film’s willingness to be PC did not extend as far as its female characters. However, it is Charlie’s encouragement and consideration of Annie that wins her back, rather than his prowess with violence.

Hardly a deconstruction of the action genre, Hit & Run nevertheless ends up being a rather pacifist film – if only by comparison – in which Annie’s job interview deadline is more important than Charlie getting rid of Alexander once and for all. In this sense, it is much more of a romcom than it is an action film. The film is certainly post-PC in that it seems to recognise that violent actions films often do make you feel dirty afterwards. Hit & Run is primarily nostalgia, but it is surprisingly non-macho and open to diversity. If only it was more radical and less disposable. 

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