HIT AND RUN

I have a girlcrush on Kristen Bell, so I’ll watch her in anything. But I had high hopes for the action comedy Hit and Run, because it’s written and co-directed by her real-life fiancé, Dax Shepard, whom I recognise principally because of his role as Frito in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (though apparently he’s also a regular on various American TV shows I haven’t seen, like Punk’d and Parenthood). I thought since they were engaged he, at least, would give Bell the sort of decent lines sadly lacking from previous big screen outings such as Pulse and You Again.

And does he? Well, yes and no. Bell plays a smart chick with a Doctorate in Non-Violent Conflict Resolution, though, alas, this doesn’t really figure in the plot as much as it ought to. She does get a few snappy lines, though, including a witty exchange in which she ticks off her boyfriend for using the word “fag”.

The set-up is simple enough; Shepard plays a loveable slob who is prepared to endanger both his witness protection cover and his life by driving his girlfriend from the small Californian town where they live to an interview for her dream job in Los Angeles, where the people he’s hiding from hang out. On the way there they’re variously accompanied, pursued or hindered by her jealous ex-boyfriend, his accident-prone parole officer (Tom Arnold) and a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper as one of the bad guys he’s double-crossed in the past.

What soon becomes apparent is that Shepard shares his life not just with Bell, but with his cars, which probably get more screen time than she does. Accordingly there are several Smokey & the Bandit-style chase sequences (in which he does his own stunt-driving) that go on just a little too long, and you suspect the screenplay was tailored more to showcase his 1967 Lincoln Continental than to spin a well structured yarn. The overall impression is of an amiable rom-com-road-movie cobbled together with some actor chums over a couple of pints of lager and some crisps.

Which is fine as far as it goes, but everyone here is punching well below their weight, and I can’t help wishing they’d put a bit more effort into it. For example, a genuine sense of speed and danger, edging the film into noir territory, might not have gone amiss.

ETA: Amelia Mangan has reminded me the film contains several jokey references to rape, which – since it’s about male rape, in prison – we’re supposed to find hilarious. Which of course it’s not. But what is it with American fratboy comedians and their obsession with male rape? This made me think of Rob Schneider’s 2007 directing debut, Big Stan, which might fairly be called the apotheosis of the male rape comedy, in which Schneider plays a puny conman sentenced to three years in jail. David Carradine (in one of 30 films he made in the two years prior to his death) plays the chainsmoking god of cool who gives him a crash course in martial arts so he can ward off rapists, resulting in our Rob turning the prison into a warm, fuzzy boys’ club. Includes jokes about sphincters, masturbation and, especially, male rape.

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