Mouths and motors both run in Hit & Run

Hit & Run, a new action comedy engineered by faintly Muppety co-director/writer/star Dax Shepard, is as much about running mouths as running motors, and injects estrogen into the few remaining enclaves of American testosterone, muscle cars and FM cock rock.

Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, a 35-year old in Nowheresville whose life, as we see it, consists of pep-talking up his academic girlfriend, Annie (Kristen Bell), qualified for nothing better than teaching at the local community college by her over-rarefied Ph.D. in conflict resolution. Conflict duly arrives when a prestigious opening at the first department specializing in her chosen field is announced, in Los Angeles. L.A. happens to be the one place Charlie can't go, though, for Charlie's name is not really Charlie, and he is in the Witness Protection Program — but he's in love, so he offers to drive Annie into the lion's den.

The name "Charles Bronson" and the '67 Lincoln Continental that Charlie takes out of mothballs for the trip should establish Hit & Run's cinematic pedigree, along with the pursuing Cannonball Run entourage Charlie and Annie pick up as they head west: Annie's absurd ex, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum); the federal marshal appointed to Charlie, Randy (Tom Arnold); and, finally, the former accomplice whom Charlie's testimony put in jail, Alex Dimitri (Bradley Cooper) — because, contrary to the less-culpable backstory he has given Annie, Charlie used to be a bank-job getaway driver named Yul Perkins.

This is one of the many couple-fight issues that Charlie and Annie will have to find time to work through while running for their lives. Shepard and Bell are a couple off-screen, and Charlie and Annie's badinage is as much of friends as of lovers, heavy on put-down endearments ("You're so terrible on the eyes," "Fatass," etc.). Charlie and Annie's ongoing conversation and compromise — theirs is pointedly a relationship, not a romance — contravenes the precisely defined gender roles of chase-film predecessors like 1972's The Getaway, with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and 1971's Vanishing Point, with Barry Newman's Kowalski protected in stoic, silent, impermeable masculinity by the chassis of his Dodge Challenger.

Hit & Run arranges a head-on collision between 1970s individualism and 2012 PC: Where Kowalski hands out a whipping to degenerate homo hitchhikers, Charlie takes a dressing down from his girlfriend for using the word "fag" as a synonym for "lame," and there is a genial subplot involving gay law enforcement using a take off of the Grindr hookup app. Later, when Charlie pulls onto a college campus in a Baja 1000, he's heckled from off-screen for not "going green," to which he responds, "It's biodiesel, friend" — and who knows if he's joking?

Hit & Run was shot fast and cheap, using cars from gearhead Shepard's own garage. The stunt driving warrants only passing mention, for it's never more than serviceable — one wishes that Shepard and co-director David Palmer had spent a little more time studying Walter Hill and a little less on Hal Needham. The cast was apparently hastily cobbled together by calling in favors around Hollywood, which partially explains the film's premise that outlaws have the same concerns of right-thinking (read: left-leaning) actors. That even the criminal class has gone sensitive and finically eco-conscious has some potential for comedy, but there's no single detail that might convince a viewer that the characters played by Shepard and Cooper might ever have been compelled to steal for a living, and this alienates the crime picture from any social context or sense of actual danger.


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