Hit and Run

The easygoing chemistry between Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell makes this lovers-on-the-lam ride an enjoyable one.

A chase-oriented B movie that shows a heavy influence from True Romance for both good and ill, Dax Shepard and David Palmer's Hit and Run benefits from a surprisingly sweet vibe and easygoing chemistry between Shepard and his co-star (and real-life fiancee) Kristen Bell, both in fine form. Its high-octane but low-stakes action may be just the thing for movie­goers weary of summer's operatic superheroes.

Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, an L.A. bank robber who, after his partners killed a security guard, testified against them and was hidden in tiny Milton, Calif. Charlie's a sensitive stoolie, though, and showers new girlfriend Annie (Bell) with daily affirmations and selfless love.

Still, he hasn't told her how he came to be in the witness-protection program, letting her believe he always has been the benevolent charmer he is today.

When Annie gets a job offer she can't refuse in L.A., Charlie decides to risk going home -- breaking out the muscle car he drove in his bad-boy days to take her downstate. Unfortunately, the vintage Continental (with suicide doors, natch) not only brings out traces of Charlie's old self -- cue an amusing debate over acceptable usage of the word "fag" -- but is a clue allowing Annie's former boyfriend Gil (Michael Rosenbaum) to suss out Charlie's identity and, in an effort to split them up, contact his old, revenge-minded gang.

What follows is an old-fashioned cross-country pursuit in which the aforementioned parties are joined by a marshal (Tom Arnold) responsible for Charlie's welfare and a pair of highway patrol officers.

It's an enjoyable ride, though the filmmakers push some gags close to the breaking point. Arnold's accident-prone cop, who can barely touch his gun without shooting innocent bystanders, is too clumsy by half (not to mention loud). And Bradley Cooper, as the ringleader of Charlie's former gang, inexplicably seems to be offering a variation on the ineffably strange pimp Gary Oldman played in True Romance: Dreadlocked and wearing yellow-tinted shades, he's a white boy affecting ghetto attitude and afflicted by an in-and-out Southern drawl. The performance is the most distracting but certainly not the only reminder of Tony Scott's 1993 chase-romance; even the soundtrack, with its echoes of Hans Zimmer's marimba, doffs its hat.

In the most important respects, though, Hit and Run makes its lovers-on-the-lam premise its own. Shepard is as likable as ever, believably pairing gentleness with outlaw savvy; Bell doesn't take Annie's indignation at Charlie's past so far that we hold it against her. Beau Bridges (as Charlie's estranged dad) is a standout, requiring just a few minutes of screen time to lend emotional depth to the hero's backstory.

Opens: Wednesday, Aug. 22 (Open Road)
Cast: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold
Directors: Dax Shepard, David Palmer Rated R, 96 minutes

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