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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Hit and Run


HIT AND RUN  (Also Two Disc Combo/Blu/DVD/Digital copy) (Two Stars)

U. S.: David Palmer & Dax Shepard, 2012 (Universal)

Part of Hit and Run — a hell-on-wheels car-chase comedy-actioner from actor-writer-co-director Dax Shepard — is playful, funny and even sweet-tempered. And part of it is hard and raunchy and a little mean. The two parts don’t always jibe or mix well, but at least they provide a little variety and at least some entertainment — more than most shows of this kind do. I liked at least some of those parts, and the movie — which costars Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold and a 1967 vintage Lincoln Continental that Shepard drives (and, in real life, owns)  made me laugh a little. So did the two movies that seem to be its prime inspirations: star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit, and the late Tony Scott’s and writer Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance.

A few laughs are better than none, even if the movie is irritating at times. But if Hit & Run is clichéd (and it is), it’s likably clichéd: a kind of ersatz down-home project that looks as it were slapped together by a bunch of movie buddies out for a good time. Hit & Run has a hot tang, like a good barbecue sandwich, with a cold beer backing it up and catchy song on the jukebox (“East Bound and Down” maybe).

In the movie, Shepard, one of the stars of TV’s “Parenthood,”plays “Charlie Bronson”  (a sub for his character’s real name Yul Perkins (cq)), an ex-wheelman for a California hold-up aggregation. Charlie turned in the gang, and is now in a witness protection program in tiny Milton, Cal. — living a mellow life with his tough, adorable girlfriend, Annie Bean (played by Shepard’s g.f. Bell, a.k.a. “Sarah Marshall”), and monitored by a nervous Federal Marshall, Randy Anderson (Arnold). Charlie/Yul is troubled only by the persistent interferrences  of Annie’s old b.f., Gil Rathbinn (Michael Rosenbaum) and by the fact that he‘s never told Annie, who works in Non-Violent Crisis Management, about his outlaw past and his current witness protection status.

Enter the big problems: Annie is offered a dream job in Crisis Management studies at a Los Angeles university, and Charlie, who can’t go to L. A. for a number of reasons, decides to show he’s a mensch by driving her there. On the road, ready to mess with him or each other, are nervous Marshall Randy, who’s also the worst driver in the movie, buttinsky Gil, his brother, gay cop Terry (Jess Rowland) and, worst of all, Charlie’s old gang — led by dreadlocked psychopath (and Charlie’s one time best friend) Alex Demetri, played nastily by Bradley Cooper, who has to be doing this movie (and Shepard’s previous Brother’s Justice) partly out of friendship.

Well, face it. Smokey and the Bandit, Shepard’s model, was a lot of fun, though director Hal Needham (who was probably the movies’ greatest movie stunt man and stunt directior from the ‘50s through the ‘70s) stumbled when kept trying to repeat that lighthearted car-chase-or-race formula, to increasingly diminishing returns in high octane turkeys like Stroker Ace and The Cannonball Run  pictures). Needham could have done a better job with this movie, which is sloppy and sometimes offensive (especially when Alex beats up, with a sadism that grates on you, an African American customer hassling him at a  store).

Shepard, an ingratiating actor, tries to pull a Judd Apatow of sorts: to play his movie both sweet and raunchy — and, in this case, good-hearted and occasionally brutal . But Shepard hasn’t mastered the mixed tone that kind of story requires, and neither has his directing partner David Palmer — a music video guy whose filmography includes Stripped: Greg Friedler’s Naked Las Vegas.

The movie just keeps genially crashing along: not particularly good, but not too bad either (except in spots). Of course, a show where Tom Arnold gets more laughs than Braadley Cooper in dreadlocks, is an anomaly to begin with — but Hit & Run keeps springing funny little surprises along the way, like Beau Bridges‘ ass-kicking scene as Charlie‘s dad Clint. Look at it this way: It could have been worse. It could have been Cannonball Run III.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon