David Cross translates sketch comedy prowess into organized chaos, marking his directorial debut with Hits. Measuring small-town idiocy against narcissistic hipster activism, disparate characters are cleverly strung together by collective delusions; much like Cross’ subversive cult series “Mr. Show” was prided on the strangely interconnected nature of its sketches. His assessment of the well-meaning but helpless Generation Y, prefaced by the fatalistic words “based on a true story that hasn’t happened yet”, could easily be read as misanthropy. Cross puppeteers easy-prey caricatures, not simply to bash their offscreen counterparts (mustachioed Brooklynites could realistically be debating the estrogen levels in soy-milk at this very moment), but to critically shame certain cultural absurdities like celebrity-worshiping and Internet image-crafting.
Shot on location for an inimitable aura of economic depression, Hits welcomes us to Liberty, New York; a town so small that its underworked cops are stoked to bust any underage kegger. One of the locals, Dave Stubin (Matt Walsh), a municipal worker and proud taxpayer, regularly attends common council meetings to press for more snowplows and passionately recite whatever libertarian paranoia he learned from an Alex Jones-type radio show. His tirade against the “United States of Russia” winds up on YouTube, where it reaches Michael Cera’s character, a little-league pot dealer of obscure cultivars (like the best-selling “corduroy pillow”) and his Brooklyn hipster clientele. Faster than you can say “homemade handcrafted cardboard boxes”, Donovan McCaffrey (James Adomian) rallies the support of his liberal advocacy group “Think Tank”. All three members hop in the Prius and drive to Liberty, where they plan to free Dave Stubin from low-level tyranny.
Their campaign video “A Dave That Will Live in Infamy” goes viral; an ostentatious mashup of police brutality, civil rights marches, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and screeching bald eagle graphics akin to that of “The Colbert Report”. This infamy arrives much to the horror of Dave’s daughter Katelyn Stubin, played by Meredith Hagner; who is oddly convincing as a talentless teenaged airhead in low-rise yoga pants (harshly worded, but high-praise nonetheless). Whole-heartedly convinced she was born to be a star, Katelyn practices for imaginary interviews, divulging to Ellen Degeneres her plans of opening an owl sanctuary with Ryan Gosling. It is even asked whether those lost souls of MTV’s “Teen Mom” got pregnant before or after auditioning. Desperate and in need of a demo for “The Voice”, Katelyn compromises herself with Juliann (Jason Ritter), the nu-metal sleazebag who leases lo-fi recording equipment for blow jobs. While her tabloid-fueled dreams and Dave’s fiery crusade against pot-holes may be laughable, the Stubins salvage an importance of being earnest from the rubble of Hipster irony.
Cross draws on some relatively exhausted material – as Hipsters doin’ politics in pre-distressed plaid have been the butt of every joke since Wallstreet was occupied. But in the overdone circus-show finale, when Dave uses an unpublishable epithet for Obama at a press-swarmed council meeting, its hardly a last-second revelation about his stereotypically racist core. He merely parrots toxic ideology, which is Cross deftly equating the hyperbolic nonsense on the Right with that of the Left. Throw in a cameo by Amy Sedaris and an unfortunate Sara Bareilles rendition involving a shotgun – and you have one outrageous debut likely to be a hit amongst David Cross fans.
Reviewed on January 22nd at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival – Premieres section. 100 Mins