Having spent the past few years living under the witness protection program, Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) faces a dilemma when his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell) lands an interview for her dream job in Los Angeles. Faced with losing the love of his life, Charlie decides to take a huge risk and drive Annie to LA. Unfortunately not only does his protector, accident-prone federal marshal Randy Anderson (Tom Arnold) race off in pursuit but Annie's jealous ex-boyfriend posts a message on FaceBook that sets the vengeful criminals on Charlie's tail.
Hit & Run was a pet project for comedian Dax Shepard who set out to craft a high-octane action comedy along the lines of his favourite movie: Smokey and the Bandit (1977). Working with a comparatively low budget Shepard not only wrote the screenplay but co-directed, performed several breakneck stunts himself featuring cars from his personal collection and got real life spouse Kristen Bell to co-star along with several showbiz pals. Most notably Bradley Cooper as the dread-locked, dog-loving villain of the piece, Alex Dmitri, who bears Charlie a hefty grudge in the wake of his decidedly, uh, uncomfortable stint in prison. Also included among an amiable array of quirky characters are Kristen Chenoweth as Annie's pill-popping boss, onetime Lex Luthor on Smallville Michael Rosenbaum (near-unrecognizable with a lush head of hair!) as the obnoxious Gil, Beau Bridges as Charlie's irate dad, Bell's Veronica Mars co-star Ryan Hansen as one of the villains, Jess Rowland and Shepard's real-life sister Carly Hatter as a couple of cops obsessed with a new dating app, and a brief cameo from Jason Bateman.
Some dismissed the film as a vanity project. While there is a faint element of that given Shepard casts himself as a badass race car driver, by and large Hit & Run swerves away from the pitfalls of an ego-tripping action vehicle. Instead, Shepard emphasizes the more romantic aspects of the story that stem from Charlie's sweet, sensitive nature. Charlie literally risks his life so his girlfriend can make it to an important job interview because he loves her that much. In a script laden with offbeat, interesting ideas Shepard's master stroke is placing a heartwarming relationship drama inside the framework of a frantic action comedy. Over a breakneck chase successive revelations cause Annie to question whether she really knows Charlie at all, from his casual use of a homophobic slur to the truth about his shady past plus the fact he did not name himself after stone-faced action icon Charles Bronson but the incarcerated British criminal of the same name. Having said that one wonders whether Shepard was at least partly influenced by Terence Young's excellent Bronson vehicle Cold Sweat (1970) given there are some similarities in plot.
The central theme poses the question of whether the past matters more than the person you love now? Charlie and Annie engage in ongoing debates over whether the past is a world away from what we strive to be or an irremovable aspect of who we are, in the midst of flying bullets and burning rubber so the action fans won't get bored. It is a beguiling hook fueled by the engaging, easygoing banter between the two leads which is not the forgone conclusion one might expect given not all married couples have great chemistry onscreen. Not everything works. Shepard and co-director David Palmer, who collaborated previously on the mockumentary Brother's Justice (2010), too often let the fast pace take a back seat to some cod-Tarantino quirky character monologues and a few gags misfire, notably a supposedly ironic discourse on contrasting racial attitudes to rape that still comes across racist and homophobic. There is also a gross-out gag wherein Charlie and Annie stumble upon a geriatric orgy complete with icky full frontal nudity that isn't especially endearing. Nonetheless, Shepard and Palmer do a fine job handling the white-knuckle car chase sequences that happily favour real stunt-work over phony-looking CGI although it is the core romance and chemistry between the leads that make this an unexpected charmer.