Since its inception in the early 1990s with Robert Rodriguez’ “El Mariachi,” the do-it-yourself filmmaking movement has been roundly celebrated by the entertainment media. Indeed, micro-budget films that have blossomed into full-fledged Hollywood hits, from “The Blair Witch Project” to “Napoleon Dynamite,” offer compelling narratives of the little guy seizing upon the promise of capitalism, even if his share in the profits is ultimately meager compared to that of the acquiring distributor. What the media invariably ignore is that the accompanying democratization of production–through the lessening cost of prosumer video equipment and expanding distribution channels like VOD–has also allowed for thousands of amateurish Hollywood knock-offs to be made.
There is no better example of a bad DIY movie than “Hit & Run,” the new action-“comedy” from the actors/real-life couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. The movie was independently financed for a mere $1.3 million, presumably because no studio was interested in Shepard’s lame-brained script. Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible to fill such a low-budget project with as many car chases and gunshots as “Hit & Run” boasts. But thanks to modern advances in digital photography and computer effects, which were at least partially ushered in by the demands of the DIY movement, Shepard’s vision was able to become a reality without Hollywood backing. As a result, moviegoers must endure a film that is not only of lesser production-value than a studio release, but one that is also more juvenile and creatively lacking.
It would not be a ludicrous to assume that Shepard wrote the entire movie around his desire to play with fancy cars, already an offscreen passion prior to making “Hit & Run.” The automobiles in the movie may be customized to the hilt, but the story elements are made up entirely of stock parts from the rom-com and outlaw genres, which were fresher 35 years ago in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Shepard plays protagonist “Charlie Bronson,” clearly the dumbest participant in the Witness Protection Program given his thoroughly unsubtle choice of name. Despite hiding his history as a getaway driver for bank robbers from girlfriend Annie (Bell), they live a happy life together in a sleepy Central California town. That is, until the criminal team who he ratted out to avoid jail-time becomes aware of his location as he drives Annie to a job interview in Los Angeles. Turmoil that threatens both the couple’s lives and their relationship ensues.
One might be able to forgive the movie’s pedestrian action craftsmanship due to the inherent budgetary constraints had its quieter moments been engaging, but they are the worst part of the movie. Not only is the plot filled with cliches, the characters themselves are insufferable. Take the cringe-inducing opening moments, for instance, in which Charlie tells Annie what an intelligent, unstoppable woman she is and how great her day will be in borderline baby-talk, as if he is a model for male behavior (only in la-la land, Dax). Even worse are the scenes in which Shepard uses the characters as clunky mouthpieces for he and Bell’s pet social causes. Not one, but two exchanges lecture the audience on the cruelty of the word “fag.” Another seeks to bring awareness to the alleged inhumanity of feeding one’s dog affordable, low-grade kibble.
The cast is largely populated by recognizable actors who are friends of Shepard and Bell, presumably working for scale. Just because they are recognizable, however, doesn’t mean they exude much talent. Bradley Cooper fares the best as the lead robber who seeks vengeance on Charlie, giving the character some eccentric flair, but his charisma is quashed by bad dialogue, most notably an extended scene making fun of prison rape (haven’t heard that one before!). Kristin Chenoweth, David Koechner, and Beau Bridges also make short appearances, basically doing variants of old schticks. That said, they are all infinitely more respectable inclusions than Tom Arnold, who plays the prominent role of Charlie’s case officer. One can only imagine the kind of bet that Shepard must have lost with the D-lister to have allowed him to participate. Then again, to argue that “Hit & Run” is above Arnold’s pedigree (or lack thereof) would be difficult, for it’s one of the most pathetic attempts at filmmaking to ever see a wide theatrical release.