Sporadically funny but schematically constructed, “Hit and Runway,” Christopher Livingston’s feature debut, takes the overused concept of the odd couple and applies it to the thorny work relationship between a young, straight Italian-American writer and an older, gay, Jewish one. The comedy begins well but lapses into arbitrary twists and turns before exhausting its characters — and viewers — with an outlandishly fake happy ending. There may be a small theatrical audience among undiscriminating gay and indie viewers, though pic should fare better on the small screen and the festival circuit.
Like many indie filmmakers, co-writers Jaffe Cohen, a standup comic, and Livingston, an NYU alumnus, have seen too many movies; their work feels like a pastiche of sequences borrowed from by previous odd-couple comedies. Most recent source of inspiration is “Kiss Me, Guido,” in which a handsome Italian pizza worker and a gay stage director find themselves sharing an apartment. “Runway” generates laughs, but it suffers from an overly calculated and movieish conception.
Alex Andero (Michael Parducci) is a young man working in his family’s restaurant following his father’s death. Obsessed with movies, he dreams up the character of tuxedo-clad Jagger Stevens (Hoyt Richards), a tough undercover cop busting up an international ring of cocaine-smuggling supermodels. Alex’s cousin , Norman (Bill Cohen), a Hollywood producer, likes the idea and encourages Alex to write a script.
Alex enrolls in a screenwriting class, but lacking any discernible talent, he irritates his rigid, imperious instructor, Bob (Jonathan Hogan), and the class sexpot, Lana (Teresa De Priest). Gwen (Judy Prescott), a shy, self-effacing girl , counters the rejections in Alex’s life by taking a romantic interest in him, though he’s so immersed in his cinematic pursuit that he all but ignores her. It doesn’t help that Gwen wears thick glasses, though it’s clear that they will feature prominently in the plots of “Runway” and its movie-within-the-movie.
Attention then switches to the other protagonist, Elliot Springer (Peter Jacobson), a talented but unattractive writer, a nebbish who looks and behaves like a young Woody Allen. When Elliot becomes smitten with Joey (Kerr Smith), the restaurant’s new and handsome gay waiter, Alex sees new possibilities for his fledgling scripting career. The two begin to meet regularly in Elliot’s apartment and a skeleton for a script emerges after endless bickering. But inspired by his grand amour for Joey, Elliot rewrites Alex’s story and calls it “Hit and Runway.”
In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Elliot takes the gentile Joey to his gay synagogue, where all the older Jews, including the rabbi, shamelessly cruise the young blond. There are also nice scenes between Alex and Gwen, and between Alex and his older, macho brother, Frank (John Fiore), who stands for all the reprehensible values and bad things in life. But overall, the secondary characters and subplots are more interesting and entertaining than the central couple.
Here and there, pic contests cliches about gay men and Italian-Americans, though it’s less successful in the case of the Jewish schlemiel. Worse, beneath the film’s seemingly tough facade hides a soft, naive and moralistic narrative that rehashes old-fashioned, basically invalid cliches, such as the notion that good ideas should come from the heart, or that a person should be a nice and honest human being before becoming a true artist.
The ensemble cast is appealing, particularly Parducci as Alex and Prescott as Gwen, but the film aggressively goes out of its way to entertain — and pander to — the audience. In this respect, “Hit and Runway” recalls “Happy, Texas,” another schematic pastiche that presents itself as new while basically exploiting commonplace movie formats.
Tech credits are decent, but pic overextends its welcome by at least 15 minutes, and last reel is notably weak.