Hit and Miss 

Another odd couple is offered up for would-be laughs and insights.

In screenwriting classes -- in fact, in almost any kind of writing classes -- they hit you with the old saw regarding writing what you know about. This leads inevitably to that hoariest, most worn-out genre: stories about writers trying to write stories. Worse yet is when the characters succeed only after realizing that they should write about what they know, which inevitably is the very film we're watching.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the world of Hit and Runway. Our protagonist is Alex Andero, a young Italian American with big dreams and not much apparent talent. When he is to take a job in his family's New York caf´, he realizes that the only out for him is to really buckle down and write that screenplay.

He signs up for an evening screenwriting class, which doesn't have much effect on the main plot, but does introduce him to Gwen (Judy Prescott), a "plain" young woman who, Superman-like, turns dazzling when she takes her glasses off. Improbably, Alex has a relative who knows somebody who knows somebody in Hollywood, who in turn knows Eastwoodian action star Jagger Stevens. Alex pitches an idea for a serious thriller about a fashion model who's actually an undercover cop; the connection thinks it's hilarious and promises to show the script to Stevens, if Alex can make it really, really funny.

Unfortunately, Alex doesn't have a knack for humor (or for much of anything else creative), but at the very moment he needs a collaborator, a nebbishy, Jewish gay playwright named Elliot Springer (Peter Jacobson) shows up at the caf´, trying desperately to get to know one of the waiters -- Joey (Kerr Smith), a gorgeous young gay porn actor. Alex promises to help Elliot get a date with Joey if he'll co-write the script. The result is The Odd Couple cubed: The pair are gay/straight, Jewish/Italian, and smart/stupid. The obvious complications, joys, and tensions develop.

Hit and Runway -- the feature debut of director Christopher Livingston (who is also listed among the writers, producers, and editors, and even sings the closing credit tune) -- begins badly. In addition to the familiarity of the ideas, there are clunky devices that don't work: The broad "Hebrew" music that fills the soundtrack the first several times Elliot appears verges on the offensive, and a major plot contrivance depends on the notion that hard drives don't exist and that people keep their only copies of valuable documents on a single floppy. (Maybe the screenplay was incubated since the early '80s: no excuse.)

Jacobson's performance is so cloned from Woody Allen that it is initially irritating: Indeed the specter and influence of Allen, including one or two blatant homages, hang over the film as an unflattering point of reference for comparison.

For all that, the film does have some moments. The middle third gains momentum, largely on the energy of Jacobson's performance and the cleverness of Elliot's wisecracks. But this is dissipated toward the end when, in another bad plot twist, Alex is suddenly revealed to have secretly behaved in an unbelievable, uncharacteristic, and (worst of all) inadequately set-up way. And while it's bad enough to end a film by having the hero sit down and write the very film we're watching, Livingston arrogantly goes so far as to have Gwen telling Alex how brilliant that film -- which is to say this film -- is. Which tells us all we need to know about her taste.

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