Have you ever seen a film in which the climactic fight sequence is resolved not with brawn and firepower, but with verbal mediation led by a Ph.D. in non-violent conflict resolution? Me either, but it sounds like such a sequence could have the makings of a crackling satirical take on the senseless violence which so often keeps going at the end of an action movie, long after it’s necessary. Such a scene could be easily—and effectively—deployed in the final act of David Palmer and Dax Shepard’s action road comedy Hit and Run, which stars Shepard’s real-life significant other, Kristen Bell, as a teacher with a doctorate in conflict resolution. Unfortunately, in a manner representative of the film’s other missed opportunities, Bell’s character never does any mediating in the climactic sequence, which is as predictable as every scene that precedes it.
Hit and Run gets off to an inauspicious start, with resolutely unfunny slapstick revolving around a U.S. Marshal (Tom Arnold), a cup of coffee, a minivan, and a gun. The marshal’s been assigned with protecting an entrant in the Witness Protection Program, Charlie Bronson (Shepard), who testified against bank robbers four years ago and now lives in rural California with his girlfriend, Annie (Bell). When she’s offered a unique interview for a teaching position, Bronson decides he’s been hiding for too long and decides to drive Annie to Los Angeles, his old haunt. Unfortunately for the very-much-in-love couple, Annie’s ex-boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum, amusingly smarmy), learns of the trip and alerts Bronson’s criminal former cohorts (led by a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper), as Bronson wasn’t a witness to the bank robbery, but rather, the getaway driver. Naturally, complications ensue.
Far more frustrating than the film’s banally conventional plot structure is its characters’ lack of depth. Annie, who’s given a professional interest wholly original to this sort of movie, isn’t allowed to really engage much in the nonviolent resolution that supposedly drives her life’s passions, which leads to her character seeming about as deep as a puddle. Bronson, for his part, never comes across as a believable badass who once made his living as a bank robber, which is to say nothing of the fact that we don’t learn a thing about where he wants his life to go. Even the antics of Cooper’s baddie feel contrived and stagey.
All this would be passable if the film were engaging, or if its characters were believable and readily identifiable—so consistently true to themselves that the audience could really get on board with them. Without that sort of commitment to enervated storytelling and character shading, Hit and Run leaves one feeling unmoored and, frankly, indifferent.