David Cross' Directorial Debut 'Hits' Shows The Virus In Going Viral
By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 16, 2015 5:00PM
Wyatt Cenac, James Adomian and Derek Waters in “Hits.” (Photo: © Honora Productions/Brooks Media)
A very uneven movie that sometimes loses sight of its mark, David Cross' directorial debut, Hits, still seems vital—a movie very much of the moment. Some will say Cross' portrait of our vacuous, viral video-driven pop culture era takes on an easy target. OK, then why have people been talking about the Kardashians for the better part of a decade? Why does TMZ get its gossip regurgitated on "legitimate" newscasts? Why the hell do people watch The Bachelor, let alone know the names of its narcissistic participants?
Recognizing we live in a time of unparalleled celebrity-for-nothingness has not led to meaningful inroads against it. So, warts and all, Hits is a welcome act of holding up the mirror to the ugly state of things. As a low-budget indie with little marketing push, the movie is unlikely to have much impact, but at least Cross is in the ring, fighting against our collective societal lobotomy.
The ensemble dark comedy revolves around Dave Stuben (Matt Walsh of Veep), a frustrated upstate New York citizen in constant battle with the local city council. Though he may have a legitimate gripe about unfilled potholes in his neighborhood, it's clear from his anger-fueled talk radio listening habits and a home that looks like a potential Unabomber bunker that all is not right in Dave's head.
He is a doting father, however, and even on his limited income he shells out some bucks to help his celebrity-worshipping daughter Katelyn (Meredith Hagner) record a demo she hopes will get her on The Voice...even though she really can't sing. Convinced that she's sure to hit it big in a world where Teen Mom is a star-making vehicle, Katelyn goes to some dehumanizing measures to do so.
But it turns out her dad's fiery, albeit near-incoherent, protests at the city council meetings are the performances that go viral when they are uploaded and remixed into a goofy protest anthem by the leader of a would-be liberal activist movement in New York City. That movement consists of a handful of ineffectual hipsters counting on a YouTube sensation to launch a revolution. The trouble is, the half-baked counter-culture dreamers only seem to catch Dave's everyman qualities, not the disturbed outbursts that go along with them.
In one of the movie's best scenes, the central hipster (James Adomian) compliments a diner patron (David Koechner of Anchorman fame) on his cartoonishly patriotic t-shirt. Of course, he does not wear the shirt with the irony the hipster assumes is evident. The scene brilliantly skewers both sides of the fence: the too-ready-to-rumble heartland disciples of Rush Limbaugh and a progressive community so insular that its members can't communicate outside of their own circle.
But fame at any cost is Cross' main subject here and his most potent. He's aided by an empathetic performance from Walsh (which makes his character's turn in the climax especially effective), and a strong cast of familiar comedy faces, including Michael Cera, Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show), Derek Waters (Drunk History), and Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy).
Cross (best known from his role on Arrested Development and the '90s HBO sketch comedy program Mr. Show) doesn't really distinguish himself stylistically as a director, and tonally the movie veers uneasily between sketch comedy broadness and a subtler, surprisingly humanistic approach.
Still, Hits effectively conveys dismay at how we've come to this low point. Sure, you can argue that the advent of social media and viral video has stirred significant social and political change, from the Arab Spring to capturing police abuses. But at least within the U.S., it's hard to make the case that the availability of instant visibility hasn't largely been squandered on the trivial, if not the downright degrading.
Cross is going after how we waste our technology's potential, not the technology itself. Indeed, Hits is taking a page from Radiohead with a pay-what-you-want online distribution model via BitTorrent (with some limited theatrical engagements and more standard video-on-demand platforms as well). I hope the inexpensive availability gets people to take a chance on an imperfect but engaging movie with a whole lot to say about who we are today.
Hits. Written and directed by David Cross. 101 mins. Not rated by the MPAA. Starring Matt Walsh, Meredith Hagner, David Koechner, Amy Sedaris and Michael Cera.
Available until Feb. 27 as a pay-what-you-want BitTorrent bundle ($1 minimum), as well as through various VOD providers.