Monday, August 27, 2012


 Dax Shepard and his fiancĂ©e Kristen Bell co-star in the witless romantic comedy “Hit and Run”(* OUT OF ****) that Shepard wrote and co-directed with his pal George Palmer. Palmer and Shepard helmed the video short “Reunited” (2010) as well as the spoof documentary “Brother’s Justice.” The style of comedy that they espouse mingles dry humor with slapstick. The garrulous characters never cease making asses of themselves. This half-baked buffoonery about a goofy getaway driver in the Witness Relocation Program who shacks up with a brainiac, drop-dead gorgeous, community college professor delivers more run than hit. Nothing about this low-brow, tread-burning, crime melodrama will make you either smile or flinch. The grossest scene resembles something that Sasha Baron Cohen might have removed from one of his offensive comedies. Our hero and heroine are on the run when they check into a motel. They find a sex orgy in their room with participants who are old, fat, and ugly. This tasteless scene qualifies as so gratuitous that the MPAA probably had no choice but to slap “Hit and Run” with an R-rating for nudity. Shepard and Palmer aren’t content to show this unsightly scene once but twice for maximum impact. Meantime, you’ll lose count of the number of times that the F-word is uttered. The violence remains relatively mild by today’s standards. A felon takes a slug in the back with a splash of blood for realism. A man is shown mercilessly slugging another. An assailant smashes our hero’s nose with a golf club. Nevertheless, despite their lame-brained humor and lackluster car chases, Shepard and Palmer have assembled a first-class, straight-faced cast that contributes a modicum of hilarity to the antics. Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Kristin Chenoweth, Michael Rosenbaum, and David Koechner run circles around our leads. “Hit and Run” amounts to one long, drawn-out, vehicular chase with no memorable stunts. The biggest stunt involves a dune buggy hurtling “Dukes of Hazard” style over several parked cars. Nothing about the driving will turn your knuckles white and make you gasp, but the automobiles look ultra-cool.

“Hit and Run” starts out in a backwater California town named Milton with a community college. Basically, our heroine Annie Bean (Kristen Bell of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) learns that she is about to be fired from her job as a community college professor. Happily, Annie’s potty-mouthed boss, Debby (Kristin Chenoweth of “You, Again”), alerts her about an opening at UCLA where she can land her dream job as the head of a conflict-resolution department. The major drawback for our ambitious heroine is when her tattooed boyfriend, Charlie Bronson (Dax Sheppard of “When In Rome”), divulges his participation in Witness Relocation.  Charlie is pretty much condemned to live an eternity in the sleepy little town of Milton because his former partners-in-crime want to track him down and terminate him with extreme prejudice. Eventually, Charlie changes his mind about Witness Protection and pulls the tarp off his jacked-up 1967 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors to chauffeur Annie in style to Los Angeles. Annie’s green-eyed, ex-boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum of TV’s “Smallville”), gets wind of Charlie’s real identity and sends a message via Facebook to Charlie’s number one nemesis. As it turns out, and Annie discovers later, Charlie is really Yul Perrkins. Charlie’s father Clint Perrkins (Beau Bridges of “Max Payne”) named him after legendary actor Yul Brynner of “The Magnificent Seven.” Charlie hated the name Yul so much that he changed it to Charles Bronson.  Mind you, Yul wasn’t thinking about  movie superstar Charles Bronson of “Death Wish” fame, but the notorious British inmate Charles Bronson who is known as the most violent man in British prisons. Naturally, Annie is appalled by these revelations. What she really isn’t prepared for the gun-toting trio that come calling on them as they are about to leave for L.A.  Alex Dmitri (Bradley Cooper of “The A-Team” in dreadlocks) hates Charlie because Charlie’s testimony put him behind bars long enough for a Phillipino prisoner to rape him. Now, Alex yearns to kill Charlie as much his accomplices Neve Tatum (Joy Bryant of “Spider-Man 2”) and Allen (Ryan Hansen of “Friday the 13th”). Predictably, our hero has a savior, bungling U.S. Marshal Randy Anderson (Tom Arnold of “Exit Wounds”) who doesn’t know where the brakes are on his car. The people who make FX's "Justified" have used this gag before. Worse, he has to dodge the bullets that his own gun bangs out at him as it bounces around in his car.  The scene with the bowling ball in his smashed up car will make you grin.

“Hit and Run” blends elements of both “True Romance” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” The romance between Annie and Charlie and their flight from the desperate villains recalls the predicament that Clarence and Alabama face in “True Romance.”  Bradley Cooper’s arch villain resembles the Gary Oldman bad guy that Christian Slater tangled with in “True Romance” when he went to fetch Alabama's luggage. Shepard has made it well known in the media how much he loved the Burt Reynolds' comedy "Smokey and the Bandit," and the plot follows it, especially the use of a series of careening car chases. U.S. Marshal Randy is the equivalent of "Smokey." Unfortunately, this sloppy, low-octane, pursuit potboiler conjures up little tension and delivers few thrills.  Meantime, Shepard struggles to capture the spontaneous, off-the-cuff Tarantino dialogue about controversial subject matter. Instead, they wind up sounding nothing less than loquacious. Shepard and Palmer look like they not only shot this 96-minute feature on the shoe-string but also improvised many scenes. They stage their dialogue scenes with the same lack of finesse that they do their automotive maneuvers. You should sit and shun “Hit and Run.”


 "The Blob" (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a cult science fiction film not only because it launched 27-year old Steve McQueen on a trajectory to superstardom, but also because it exploited the popular themes of alien invasion and teenage delinquency which were inseparable in 1950s   cinema. Interestingly, nobody in the Kay Linaker and Theodore Simonson screenplay ever refers to the amorphous, scarlet-red protoplasm that plummeted to Earth in a meteor and menaced everybody in the small town of Downingtown Pennsylvania on a Friday night as "The Blob." They refer to it vaguely as the monster. Steve McQueen won the role of Josh Randall, the old West bounty hunter in "Wanted: Dead or Alive," after producer Dick Powell saw this Paramount Pictures' release. Meanwhile, McQueen's attractive girlfriend Aneta Corsaut went on to star opposite Andy Griffith in the hit CBS-TV comedy "The Andy Griffith Show" as Sheriff Taylor's school teacher girlfriend Helen Crump. Of course, neither McQueen nor Corsaut were teenagers, but then rarely did actual teenagers play actual teenagers. Director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., made his directorial debut with "The Blob." Linaker and Simonson's screenplay synthesized four genres: first, the alien invasion; second, teenage delinquency; third, a murder mystery, and fourth; a horror chiller. Moreover, while the gelatinous substance assumes various shapes, it remains largely anonymous. In other words, the eponymous Jell-O neither talks nor communicates through telepathy. Instead, it kills without a qualm and discriminates against nobody. The ill-fated Dr. Hallen summarizes the Blob: "There's a man here with some sort of a parasite on his arm, assimilating his flesh at a frightening speed. I may have to get ahead of it and amputate. No... I don't know what it is or where it came from."The tone of "The Blob" is fairly serious in spite of its somewhat campy nature.

As the filmmakers point out on the Criterion DVD release of "The Blob," the movie opens uncharacteristically for a sci-fi horror thriller with our hero and heroine in a remote rural locale making out and kissing. Jane (Anita Corsaut) and Steve (Steve McQueen) see a large meteor fall to the earth and drive in search of it. Meanwhile, an elderly man with a lantern finds the meteor and pokes it with a stick. The meteor cracks open, and a slimy bunch of goop clings to the stick. When the old timer (Olin Howland of "The Paleface") gets a closer look at it, the goop attaches itself to his hand. The old guy runs screaming from the crater, and Steve nearly hits him with his jalopy. Steve and Jane pick the guy up and take him to see Dr. Hallen in town.

Hallen is poised to leave town for a medical conference when Steve and Jane bring the old guy to his office. Hallen phones his nurse to return since he may need to perform an amputation. Of course, Hallen has never seen anything like the substance on the man's forearm. Hallen sends Steve and Jane to find out what happened. Our heroes run into another group of teenagers that ridicule Steve's fast driving. Steve fools him into a reverse drive race, but the local police chief Dave (Earl Rowe) lets him off the hook. Steve and the teenagers visit the site of the meteor crater and find the warm remains of the meteor. After they visit the old man's house and rescue a dog, the teenagers split for a spooky late night movie while Steve and Jane return to Dr. Hallen's office. During the interim, the blob has entirely absorbed the old geezer, killed Hallen's nurse and attacked the doctor. Neither acid thrown on the protoplasm nor Hallen's shotgun have any effect on the blob. Steve catches a glimpse of the blob absorbing Hallen. When Steve and Jane go to the police department to report the incident, Dave is frankly incredulous, while Sergeant Bert (John Benson) believes that it is a prank. Bert has an axe to grind with teenagers because his wife died when one struck her car.

Steve and Jane take them to Hallen's office, but they can find neither hide nor hair of anybody, but Dave admits that the office has been vandalized. Against Sgt. Bert's advice, Dave turns the teens over to their respective parents. We learn that Jane's father is the High School principal. No sooner have Steve and Jane fooled their folks into believing that they are snugly asleep in bed than they venture out again. Jane's little brother in his pajamas with his stuffed Teddy Bear pleads to join her. Jane emphasizes the he needs to watch over their unsuspecting parents. They drive into town and spot the old man's dog that got away from them in front of a supermarket. When they go to retrieve the mutt, Steve steps in front of the electric eye door of the grocery store and it opens. They find nobody inside, but they encounter the blob. Steve and Jane take refuge in a freezer and the blob doesn't attack them. Later, after they escape, Steve persuades the teenagers that challenged him in a street race to alert the authorities because he is supposed to be home in bed. Police Chief Dave and the fire department arrive at the supermarket. Steve tries to convince Dave that the blob is in the store. About that time, the blob kills the theater projectionist and attacks the moviegoers. Suddenly, a horde of people exit the theater and Dave believes Steve. Steve and Jane wind up at a lunch counter that the blob attacks. The proprietor and our heroes hole up in the cellar and Steve discovers that a fire extinguisher with its freezing contents forces the blob to back off.

The authorities collect every fire extinguisher in town and manage to freeze the blob. The Pentagon sends down a team to transport the blob to the North Pole. As the remains of the blob drift down to the polar ice pack, the end credit appears with a ghostly giant question mark. Producer James B. Harris obtained stock military footage of a Globe master military transport plane depositing the parachute and its cargo.

"The Blob" proved to be a drive-in hit and Steve McQueen's surge to stardom gave the film added momentum. Unless you are a juvenile, this little horror movie isn't scary at all, but Yeaworth and his scenarists create a sufficient amount of paranoia and sympathy for our heroes. They never show the blob actually assimilating its victims and leave this to your imagination, so "The Blob" isn't without a modicum of subtlety.