There is a formula to the chase-romance movie. It involves a criminal on a getaway, picking up a girl (usually against her will), fleeing the cops and/or bad guys, and then the criminal and girl falling in love. Hit & Run cleverly flips the genre by going in reverse, putting the romance before the chase, and letting it run on the chemistry of leads Dax Shepard (who also wrote and co-directed the film) and Kristen Bell. However, as the film moves away from the romance, it begins to swerve on dull chase scenes and an uneven tone. Hit & Run still manages to be a flighty and fun, but the reliance on coincidence and the difficulty balancing the comedy make Hit & Run a bumpy and forgettable ride.
Charlie Bronson (Shepard) and his girlfriend Annie (Bell) are happily in a relationship, and she knows that he’s in witness protection. When a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity pops up for Annie, who has the useless major in conflict-resolution studies, she wants to take it. The only problem is the job is at USC, and Charlie can’t go back to L.A. since it might put him in the crosshairs of the criminals he testified against. However, he decides to chance it because he loves Annie, but their road trip goes awry as Charlie’s hapless handler Randy (Tom Arnold) chases down his ward, and Annie’s duplicitous ex-boyfriend Gil (Michael Rosenbaum) calls in Charlie’s nemesis, Alan (Bradley Cooper) to find the couple.
Hit & Run has all the elements for a fun chase flick, but where the movie truly shines is in the moments between Charlie and Annie. The movie doesn’t start with a big chase scene, but an intimate moment between the two lead characters where they’re simply talking to each other in bed and saying how much they love each other. It could have opened the film on a corny note, but Shepard and Bell sell it with total honesty (which probably isn’t too difficult since the two have been in romantic relationship since 2007). This movie belongs to them, and as long as they’re at the center, Hit & Run works on all the little moments of a relationship. It’s in Charlie’s hesitance to tell Annie the truth about his past, and her disapproval at him using the word “fags”. Again, the movie knows that chase films are built on the romantic leads having a love-hate relationship, and the script wisely veers away from that dynamic.
But it still needs to be a chase film, and that’s where Hit & Run has trouble balancing its various elements. The script is correct that there should be various players in on the chase—Gil, Alan and his crew, Randy—but the movie feels contrived when it has to get everyone in place at the same time. Randy is somewhat excusable since he’s the buffoonish comic relief and his purpose is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Gil functions more as a catalyst, and then when you throw in his conveniently placed cop-brother Terry (Jess Rowland), the story feels even more forced and distracting from the central relationship between Shepard and Bell. What felt intimate between those two characters now simply feels small due to their outsized circumstances. Additionally, the chase sequences never come to life because they’re mostly in the open desert. It’s the film’s low budget shining through, and what should be an intense chase feels more like a car commercial.
The movie also has trouble balancing its comic tones. Again, the banter and balance between Shepard and Bell is where the movie shines, and Arnold does a great job playing a familiar role (a goof in a serious job). It’s also enjoyable seeing the irritating Gil literally and figuratively left in the dust. But Hit & Run slams into a major issue in trying to figure out what to do with Alan. He needs to be dangerous and crazy, but not so much that he’s downright terrifying. When the character makes a stunning confession near the end of the film, the script has absolutely no idea what to do. It doesn’t know if it should stop and be serious, if it should go dark, and how the to get back on track to being a fun chase film.
There’s joy to be had with Hit & Run, but it comes from an unexpected place, which is why it can be such a pleasure. The chemistry between Shepard and Bell may be from real-life, but it’s still chemistry, which is such an ineffable factor as to why films succeed or fail. If the rest of the film had managed to twist the rest of the elements of a chase movie, you’d have a true original instead of a neat trick that’s breezy enough to reach its destination even if its stops and sputters along the way.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10