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Sundance Film Review: ‘Hits’

Actor-turned-filmmaker David Cross misses the mark more often than not in this scattershot debut.

With:

Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry, Derek Waters, Wyatt Cenac, Amy Sedaris, David Koechner, Jason Ritter, Amy Carlson, Jessie Ennis, Erinn Hayes, Michael Cera, Kurt Braunohler, Julia Stiles.

Missing its comedic targets more often than not, writer-director David Cross’s scattershot “Hits” resembles early Alexander Payne in its playful (or hateful?) skewering of local yokels and their purportedly dim dreams. Some will see smug misanthropy in the low-budget pic’s broad swipe at small-town activist and celebrity wannabes given false hope by vaguely viral YouTube vids, but Cross’ slight affection for an upstate New York municipal worker and his would-be American idol daughter shines through — arguably. In the end, though, the effort of sussing out this satire’s attitude seems silly for the fact that its jokes just aren’t funny enough.

Cross, creator and co-star of HBO’s short-lived but justly legendary sketch comedy “Mr. Show” (and its underrated feature-length spinoff, “Run Ronnie Run!”), has an evident bone to pick with celebrity culture and, particularly, its poor worshippers, although “Hits” itself enlists the likes of Amy Sedaris, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter and Julia Stiles for small roles and walk-ons. The leads are lesser-knowns: Meredith Hagner plays 19-year-old Katelyn Stubin, who’ll do anything to get on “The Voice”; and Matt Walsh plays Katelyn’s balding dad, Dave, a fortysomething hoarder of antiquated goods who lives to rant about potholes at city council meetings in working-class Liberty.

Meanwhile, down in hippest Brooklyn, a young pot dealer (Cera) discovers Dave’s latest outburst on YouTube and shows it to Donovan (James Adomian), a mustachioed people’s advocate who sees in Dave’s petty woes a chance to promote not the cause of a “simple man” so much as his own pseudo-activist think tank. By far the film’s liveliest minute (out of 100) reveals Donovan’s own uploaded vid, “A Dave That Will Live in Infamy,” whose hilariously garish montage mashes up images of ’60s civil rights marches, Frank Capra’s filibustering Mr. Smith, a screaming eagle and the words, “Free Dave Stubin!”

The resulting hubbub in Liberty merely annoys barmaid Katelyn, whose pathetic quest for fame has her paying $300 — plus a special favor — to sleazy Julian (Ritter) for a “professional” demo recording of her unlistenable vocals. Most of the comedy’s screwballs unite at another city council meeting, where all hell breaks loose but witlessly, as when a string of unprintably nasty epithets reflects not small-town bigotry or a parody thereof so much as the film’s desperate bid to shock in the final reel.

None of the film’s stars leaves an impression, although Hagner and Walsh embody their crudely stereotypical characters capably enough. Tech package is passable.

Sundance Film Review: ‘Hits’

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 21, 2014. Running time: 100 MIN.

Production:

An Honora production. (International sales: Honora, Santa Monica, Calif.) Produced by Giles Andrew, David Cross, Charles James Denton, Jessica Latham, Ryan A. Brooks. Executive producers, Ben Altarescu, Brian Gross, Abe Schwartz.

Crew:

Directed, written by David Cross. Camera (color, HD), Paul Koestner; editor, Patrick B. Coleman; music, Zoe Keating; music supervisor, Joel C. High; production designer, Sam Lisenco; costume designer, Keri Lee Doris; set decorator, Dylan Pettengill; sound, Diana Sagrista; supervising sound editor, Louis Bertini; re-recording mixer, Dan Brennan; associate producers, Thomas Agosto, Bobby Buka, William Graves, Marianna Kulukundis, Elliott Watson, Michael Zievers, Jr.; line producer, Traci Carlson; assistant director, Michael S. Chandler; casting, Jeanne McCarthy, Rori Bergman.

With:

Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry, Derek Waters, Wyatt Cenac, Amy Sedaris, David Koechner, Jason Ritter, Amy Carlson, Jessie Ennis, Erinn Hayes, Michael Cera, Kurt Braunohler, Julia Stiles.

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