[Screen It]


(2012) (Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell) (R)

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Action-Comedy: A federal witness tries to get his girlfriend to a job interview, all while eluding the marshal assigned to protect him as well as the criminals who want payback for him testifying against them.
Charlie Bronson (DAX SHEPARD) is a mild-mannered guy living an unassuming life in a small California town. He hasn't seen his father, Clint (BEAU BRIDGES), or others from his past in years and that's because he's in the federal witness protection program where U.S. marshal Randy Anderson (TOM ARNOLD) has been assigned to protect him.

Even Charlie's live-in girlfriend, Annie Bean (KRISTEN BELL), doesn't know of his past, but he must confront that when Annie's boss, Debby (KRISTIN CHENOWETH), informs Annie of a teaching job she should take in Los Angeles. That doesn't sit well with her ex-boyfriend, Gil (MICHAEL ROSENBAUM), who gets local sheriff Terry (JESS ROWLAND) to run Charlie's plates. That reveals that his real name is Yul Perkins and that he testified against bank robbers Alex Dimitri (BRADLEY COOPER) and his partners, Neve (JOY BRYANT) and Allen (RYAN HANSEN).

Wanting to ruin Annie's relationship with Charlie, Gil contacts Alex, all of which sets into motion a multi-car chase in the direction of L.A. where Charlie must get Annie within a certain period of time, all while also dealing with her discovery of his sordid past.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Most anything can inspire a relatively new filmmaker to pick up a camera and start making a movie. For some, it's a real-life event they've heard about or even experienced. For others, it's other filmmakers or films that gave them the cinematic bug. When asked who influenced him, Steven Spielberg once rattled off an impressive list of auteurs who preceded him, ranging from Hitchcock to Welles and Wilder to Capra. Since then, he's gone on to influence an entire generation of directors.

For actor-turned director Dax Shepard (probably best known for playing Crosby Braverman on the TV show "Parenthood"), the inspiration for "Hit and Run" -- his big screen directorial debut -- was none other than the 1977 action-comedy "Smokey and the Bandit." For those too young to remember, that film featured Burt Reynolds as a driver hired to haul hundreds of cases of beer from Texas to Georgia within a certain amount of time, all while unintentionally teamed with a runaway bride and pursued by a determined sheriff who was going to be her future father-in-law. Oh, and lots of car chases.

Nothing great artistically, the film was a huge crowd pleaser (grossing north of 450 million in today's dollars), spawned a hit song ("East Bound and Down" by costar Jerry Reed), made every boy (and his father) want a Trans Am, and set off a national buying spree and use of CB radios. While Shepard presumably would enjoy capturing some of that same pop culture magic, it's highly unlikely this film is going to do that for him.

While the film has a smattering of charms and laughs here and there, it makes its now 35-year-old inspiration feel like an Oscar contender in comparison. And some of that is likely due to the fact that the filmmaker took (in his own words) "three weeks to write, four weeks to prep and six weeks to shoot" the pic that does sport a raw and somewhat amateurish feel to it. There are some funny lines (even if they're the observational type that wouldn't normally come from these sorts of characters' mouths), but much of the storytelling resorts to one uninspired (and often low budget) car chase after another.

In the movie -- that's co-directed by David Palmer -- the actor plays a character named Charlie Bronson (humor aimed at those old enough to recall the "Death Wish" actor of that name) who ends up on a deadline to get his girlfriend (real-life girlfriend Kristin Bell) to Los Angeles for a job interview. The only problem is that he's in the federal witness protection program and thus is being tailed not only by the federal marshal (Tom Arnold, overacting) assigned to protect him, but also a villain (Bradley Cooper sporting dreadlocks) and his crew who want payback; his girlfriend's jealous ex (Michael Rosenbaum); and a gay cop (Jess Rowland) who's taken a liking to the marshal.

All of those pursuers are presumably supposed to add to the hilarity (along with the sight, not once but twice, of a foursome of elderly and fully naked swingers), but they only serve to diffuse the conflict (as compared to the antagonistic relationship of the title characters in the aforementioned inspiration). And dropping at least 125 F-bombs into the mix again proves that some people are lazy screenwriters and don't bother to be creative.

Here, the "imaginative" parts are discussions about race (regarding what ethnicity likely anally raped a man in prison) and sexuality (a chat about when it is and isn't okay to use the term "fags"), when not subjecting Arnold's well-intentioned but bumbling character to one indignity after another. Beyond that, the car chases -- featuring the star's own '67 Lincoln Continental -- take up most of the rest of the film's 100 minute runtime without providing many thrills or laughs.

Shepard has an easy-going, aw-shucks demeanor to him that does work to some degree, and his real-life chemistry with Bell translates well to the screen. That said, they're no Reynolds and Fields, and none of the pursuers can individually or collectively hold a candle to Jackie Gleason's smug and increasingly irritated lawman from three decades ago. Granted, no one here was trying to remake "Smokey," but if it's stated as inspiration, the resultant film darn well better live up or at least come close to matching the original. "Hit and Run" doesn't, and thus rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed July 30, 2012 / Posted August 22, 2012

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