The past catching up with the present is a core tenant of film noir, where mysterious men would try to outrun the things they’d done until they couldn’t run anymore. Movies like Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) and Out of the Past (1947) show men haunted by days and acts gone by and dragged back into the life they’ve desperately tried to get short of. Hit & Run (2012), outside of being about a man whose past comes knocking on the door, doesn’t want to be a film noir, but it wants to be just about everything else. Here’s a comedy, a chase picture, a cop picture, a car picture, and a love story. That it doesn’t do any of them all that well is to be expected. That it does them all well enough is to be reasonably applauded.
The movie was written and co-directed by Dax Shepard who stars as Charlie, under witness protection after testifying against bank robbers. He lives in a sleepy northern California town that he can’t stand save for Annie (Shepard’s real-life girlfriend Kristen Bell), the love of his life. She knows he testified; she doesn’t know that he was engaged to one of the bank robbers and did their getaway driving. She finds this out right quick when those he testified against, led by Alex (Bradley Cooper in full dirt-bag mode, complete with skuzzy dreadlocks and hippie poncho), come around to settle the score and Charlie and Annie have to hit the road.
Constantly in their rear-view mirror are the bank robbers, Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum) and the clumsy federal agent Randy (Tom Arnold), who is supposed to be protecting Charlie but is more of a danger to himself and others. During the pursuit, Charlie and Annie split apart (all the new information is a bit much for her), and they stumble upon some strange people, including a hillbilly played by David Koechner and an octogenarian sex club.
Hit & Run has a forerunner (or a pace car) in Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and its modus operandi seems to be landing a few jokes around the chase scenes, of which there are several. It reminded me, however, of last year’s 30 Minutes or Less, not just as a modest achievement, but also because the movie is propelled forward due to its own internal momentum. The story introduces so many characters and pursuers that it would feel muddled and confusing if we attempted to take it seriously, but the light tone never gives way so we let it pass.
The instigating circumstance of the story, however (Annie is being offered a job in Los Angeles that she has to take in three days or she gets fired from her current job), is contrived and the convenient circumstances that lead to the rapid unveiling of Charlie’s true identity (he lived in secret for years yet he’s easily outed in about 10 minutes) is forced, but they both serve as the inelegant spark that gets the pistons firing. The whole enterprise is overcomplicated as we learn about interrelationships and backstories that stay mainly unresolved because neither we nor the movie is very interested in them.