Movie Reviews: Hit and Run, On the Road, Ruby Sparks, Hotel Transylvania

Hit and Run ****

Movie Reviews: Hit and Run, On the Road, Ruby Sparks, Hotel Transylvania

Most road trip movies take the scenic route, stop off to smell the roses, take a little time to wonder what this crazy ol’ world is all about. As its title suggests, however, Hit and Run (15A) puts pedal to metal from the off: Annie (Kristen Bell) needs to get to LA in order to take up a new teaching position, so her boyfriend Charlie agrees to drive her. So far, so good, except Charlie is in the Witness Protection Programme, and soon the pair are being chased all over the Midwest by bad guys (led by a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper), a US Marshal (Tom Arnold), an unlikely pair of cops, and a hillbilly who covets Charlie’s souped-up Lincoln muscle car. Shepard, who wrote the screenplay and co-directs alongside David Palmer, plays Charlie as an hilariously unreconstructed guy in constant need of correction by Annie, a conflict resolution expert: between them, Shepard and Bell create a believable chemistry which is the quiet heart of this adrenaline-fuelled thriller. Smart dialogue and a series of caper-comedy chase scenarios suggest that Shepard has watched more of his fair share of Tarantino and Coen Brothers movies, and even if you’ll see the ending coming a mile off, there’s plenty of twists, turns, and dumb fun along the way.

Arguably the most famous literary road trip of them all, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (16s) is adapted for the big screen by Jose Rivera and helmed by Walter Salles. Sam Riley stars as Sal Paradise, the alter-ego of Jack Kerouac, who crisscrosses America in a hedonistic haze during the post-WWII years in the company of fellow Beat writers and poets, represented by Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), Carlo Marx (Dean Sturridge) and Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen). Fuelled by sex, drugs, and be-bop jazz, the characters celebrate ‘the one noble function of the time — to move’, although the reality of their libertarianism is more sordid than the legend permits. A crew of thieving leeches and middle-class chaps playing at hobos — the women, played by Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, and Kirsten Dunst, are little more than sex puppets. The Beat boys depicted here are a reprehensible lot. It’s beautifully shot and authentically grubby, but it’s all dangerously close to watching a student’s home movie about Rag Week.

There’s more literary hi-jinks in Ruby Sparks (15A), in which Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a writer who penned a generation-defining novel ten years previously but has yet to write a follow-up. In the depths of creative despair, he starts writing about a woman he has dreamed of, Ruby (Zoe Kazan), only for her to leap from the page, fully-formed. The kind of complications that ensue when your fantasy woman becomes flesh-and-blood duly come to pass, but while the story is ostensibly Calvin’s, as he struggles to come to terms with what may well be a mental breakdown, the movie belongs to Kazan, who not only wrote the screenplay (she’s a granddaughter of renowned Hollywood director Elia Kazan) but dominates the film every time she appears on screen. It’s a stunning performance in her first major role, not least because it is entirely dependent on Calvin’s whims, which take a belated turn towards the dark side when Ruby — unaware she is a fictitious creation — announces she wants to explore the world on her own terms. The script might have allowed for a little more salt to off-set the sweet tone — directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton maintain a light mood for most of the movie — but otherwise this is a thought-provoking tale.

Finally, one of literature’s most enduring anti-heroes, Dracula, gets the Adam Sandler treatment in animated movie Hotel Transylvania (PG). The Count (Sandler) has opened a hotel in, well, Transylvania, where monsters of all kinds — Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Blob, et al — can holiday in peace, safe from mobs of pitchfork-wielding humans. Unfortunately, the hotel’s sanctuary is breached by a backpacking human, Jonathan (Andy Samberg), to whom Dracula’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) takes a shine. What’s a vampire to do? Sandler’s Dracula is quirky enough to add another layer of charm to a beautifully animated tale, and while the story might be entirely predictable, there’s plenty of in-joke humour for adult fans of the horror genre.

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