Let’s just make it easy and blame Punk’d.
It was MTV’s lame, Ashton Kutcher-produced practical joke show that introduced me to actor Dax Shepard, who often played various roles in the show’s elaborate “pranks.” Man, was that show horrible, smug, and staggeringly unfunny. Because Punk’d was so totally abhorrent, it caused me to never pay much attention to Shepard’s work, even when he was collaborating with people I respected, like Jon Favreau. (Shepard appeared in Zathura.) And, I was always a little baffled by his real-life relationship with actress Kristen Bell, she of Veronica Mars and sloth-loving fame and somebody I completely adored.
I started to thaw when Shepard appeared as Crosby, the most wayward of the Braverman siblings on Jason Katim’s very good NBC series, Parenthood. Though not as good as Katim’s earlier series (the one for the ages great Friday Night Lights), I really warmed to Shepard, especially when he had scenes with Peter Krause. I love their easy chemistry as brothers.
Still, despite liking him as an actor after actually watching him act, I wasn’t all that thrilled to learn Mr. Shepard had co-written and co-directed a movie called Hit and Run. And, like my previous opinions with his work, once I actually saw the film, it totally changed my mind.
Hit and Run is lots and lots of fun and a nifty end-of-summer sleeper.
Shepard stars a Charlie, a nice guy with a nice life in Northern California with a nice girlfriend named Annie (played nicely by the aforementioned Kristen Bell). Charlie’s nice little life comes at the expense of taxpayers (Paul Ryan will hate this movie.), as he’s in the federal witness protection program. Turns out Charlie was the getaway driver for a bank robbing gang. After turning state’s witness on them, Charlie is now under the protection of a hapless federal marshal played by Tom Arnold.
When Annie gets an interview for a dream job in LA, Charlie leaves the safety of the witness protection program to drive her. And then, his past catches up with him.
His past takes the form of Bradley Cooper as a dreadlocked, bank-robbing psycho. Cooper is really funny here, particularly in a scene where he explains the ethnicity of the guy who raped him in prison. It also seems that Charlie knows where some of the gang’s old loot is hidden and that leads to some conflict, as well.
Also along for the chase is Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on Smallville) who brings the awesome as Annie’s spectacularly douchey ex. He’s really good here.
It’s pretty standard stuff in terms of the action. (The car chases are competent but nothing spectacular.) Thankfully, the movie has just enough of a violent edge to it that gives a sense that real things are at stake here.
The thing that really makes the film hum is the palpable chemistry Shepard and Bell have. The way they deal with each other, the way they communicate with each other is just spectacular. I’ve not seen a relationship depicted with this much specificity before. They are both utterly winsome and utterly charming. They should work together again and as often as possible. Remember how bad the romantic chemistry was between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman? This is the opposite of that.
Not everything works, though. The film can’t resist some lowbrow jokes that don’t play. (Apparently, old people having an orgy is supposed to be high-larious.) There are some gay panic jokes that seem outdated, though the film does address that. And, in a popular culture that now gives us Tim Olyphant as hyper-competent US Marshal Raylan Givens on Justified, it’s kind of hard to swallow just how inept the Tom Arnold character is. How could this boob really be in the Marshal Service?
Still, Hit and Run is an impressive debut for writer/director Dax Shepard. I’m excited to see what he does next.
I hope it has sloths in it.