I have very clear recollections of being inexplicably drawn to empty-headed carsploitation films. Actually, that's not entirely true. I wasn't "inexplicably" drawn to them; I knew exactly why I loved them. Because they allowed me 90 minutes or so to turn my brain off and concentrate on stupid jokes; barely there stories; and car stunts, wrecks and explosions. Although I didn't know his name at the time, stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham was the perpetrator of many of the films I loved, and Burt Reynolds was very often his partner in crime. The SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and CANNONBALL RUN movies were the most popular, but there was also HOOOPER and STROKER ACE. Hell, Needham also did MEGAFORCE; how could I not love him?
I'm sure if I were a serious-minded critic back in the late '70s and early '80s, I might have found all sorts of reasons to bad mouth these empty-headed demolition derbies on film. But I wasn't even a teenager when most of these films were released. If it had Reynolds being cocky, pretty ladies by his side, and full-blown destruction of motor vehicles, I was on board. I'd like to think I have more discerning tastes today, but when HIT & RUN started up, I was taken back. Most of the jokes are DOA or are moderately amusing at best. There's a lot of screaming and overacting, but when those cars start rolling, my eyes widened and my enthusiasm was irrepressible.
HIT & RUN is the brainchild of Dax Shepard, who also wrote and co-directed the movie, as well as did all of his own driving stunts. I happen to like some of Shepard's more recent acting in the largely improvised film THE FREEBIE and the NBC series "Parenthood," and there's no denying that he has a nice chemistry with his real-life partner Kristen Bell. Shepard plays Charlie Bronson (named after the man who inspired the movie BRONSON, and not after Charles Bronson--see, I think that's a great reference), a man in witness protection engaged to Bell. The couple are debating possibly moving to Los Angeles so Bell can pursue a great teaching gig. Charlie agrees to drive her, and thus the road trip portion of the movie begins.
But certain criminal elements have it out for Charlie, including one in particular played by Bradley Cooper, who has spent several years in jail after being ratted out by Charlie (or so he thinks). The couple is also being chased by her ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum) and a federal agent (Tom Arnold). When you see the multi-car, high-speed chases kick in, you can almost hear the banjo music playing. While the bad guys are pretty ridiculous, what I enjoyed more were the conversations Shepard and Bell have while driving. They seem like actual-couple discussions/arguments/love talk, and they come across as a fairly charming duo.
Shepard co-directed HIT & RUN with David Palmer, following up their barely seen (for good reason) comedy BROTHER'S JUSTICE, featuring many of the same cast members as this film but few of the enjoyable qualities. Shepard clearly has an affection for the vehicles he's spinning out of control in this film, and the experience watching it made me wish I knew more about cars in general.
I'm not a big fan of having to turn your brain off to enjoy anything, but if that's what I have to do to get the maximum levels of enjoyment out of HIT & RUN, I'll make that leap. It's far from a great movie, but it fulfills a need for watching metal smash that I can truly only get out of a work like this. I'll admit it; I was giddy; I feel no shame about that. And I'm guessing a few of you will be right there with me on this one. Put on your crash helmet for some of the jokes that fall flat so fast they may injure, but when things pick up, I think you'll get a certain level of base-level entertainment out of HIT & RUN.