Dax Shepard’s ‘Hit & Run’ delivers hits, some misses

Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell in the 2012 film "HIT AND RUN," directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard. PHOTO CREDIT:
Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell in the 2012 film "Hit and Run," directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard. (Jeffrey Reed/Open Road Films)
Jeffrey Reed/Open Road Films

Annie (Kristen Bell) and Charlie (Dax Shepard) have been together for a year. They live in a nowhere town 500 miles from Los Angeles. “Hit & Run” opens with them talking in bed. He’s reassuring her about a meeting she’s supposed to have soon with her boss. The scene is sweet and charming and feels as close to a real, matter-of-fact romantic relationship as the movies have seen this summer.

This is impressive in and of itself. Considering how many f-bombs and car chases the rest of “Hit & Run” will have, it’s astounding.

The good news is that Annie’s boss wants to tell her about a job in LA. The bad news is that Charlie’s last name is Bronson. That’s not his real name, obviously. It’s one he’s assumed, because he’s in a witness-protection program — and the bad guys he’s being protected from are in (yup) LA.

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“Hit & Run” now turns into a road movie, with LA as destination. This is where the f-bombs and car chases come in. Some of this road movie is smart and intentionally funny, some of it is coarse and unintentionally not funny at all. There’s a long bit involving dog food, for example, that’s so off it makes you wonder about Shepard’s judgment. He wrote the script, as well as co-directed, with David Palmer. The balance among romance, comedy, action, and raunch keeps fluctuating.

When Shepard’s on, though, he’s really on. There’s hardly anything rote or predictable about “Hit & Run,” other than its title. That’s true of Shepard’s screen presence, too. He’s Owen Wilson with a Billy Bob Thornton streak. That doesn’t sound like such a good idea, like a sloe gin fizz chased with RC Cola. But it works. Shepard’s chemistry with Bell carries the picture.

The rest of the cast does fine. Bradley Cooper, as one of the bank robbers Charlie’s trying to avoid, shows up in dreadlocks and amber-tinted aviators. You can sense what a good time he’s having. He’s like Colin Farrell in “Horrible Bosses”: big star as bad guy with very bad hair. Tom Arnold, as the world’s most inept US marshal, gets more than his share of laughs.

The biggest scene-stealer in “Hit & Run” is the black ’67 Lincoln Continental (with 700 horsepower!) Charlie brings out from under wraps in the garage so he can drive Annie to LA. It’s what the Batmobile would be if the Batmobile were vintage and not custom-made. Put Christian Bale behind the wheel, and “Hit & Run” would make a billion bucks — except then there’d be no room for Shepard, and that movie would hardly be worth watching.