Dax Shepard puts his friends, fiancée Kristen Bell, even his own vehicles to good use in “Hit & Run,” a fun little car-chase comedy that’s quite infectious – the good time clearly had by the filmmakers rubs off on the audience.
Done on a tiny budget, the movie’s stunts and chases are nothing much, but the lack of resources steers the story away from action and toward the characters, who are wry, irreverent, even endearing.
Screenwriter Shepard, the “Parenthood” co-star who directed “Hit & Run” with David Palmer, tailors the roles to suit his pals, including Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Kristin Chenoweth and “Parenthood” co-star Joy Bryant.
The result is like a student film made by pros, weirdly idiosyncratic but efficiently paced. It’s well-scripted and well-acted, and if “Hit & Run” lingers too long on so-so gags and inside jokes Shepard and his friends found particularly funny, it compensates with a freewheeling spirit that pulls viewers along for the ride.
Shepard stars as a guy in witness protection who took the name Charlie Bronson – just why is one of the subtly amusing bits of “Hit & Run.” A former getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers, Charlie betrayed his pals for a sort-of noble reason, but Shepard doesn’t play him as a hoodlum with a halo. Charlie’s a man who did wrong, is trying to make amends but offers no excuses for his misdeeds and is willing to pay the price should they come back to haunt him.
Of course, they do. Now living in rural California with academic Annie (Bell), Charlie decides to break cover and drive her back to his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, where she’s got an interview for her dream job running a campus program in conflict resolution.
Through the scheming of her old beau, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), Charlie and Annie wind up pursued by his old gang, including Alex Demitri (Cooper) and Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, Neve (Bryant).
Arnold plays federal agent Randy, Charlie’s hapless witness-protection minder. A hapless blusterer, Randy’s at the center of many of the movie’s physical gags; some are mildly funny, but they’re mostly repetitive and disposable, often putting the brakes on the action so Arnold can launch into another fit of bellowing.
Oddly for a road romp, the main charm of “Hit & Run” comes from the verbal exchanges, either when the characters are standing still or sharing strange intimacies during a high-speed chase.
“Hit & Run,” despite its bland title, is more clever and distinctive than the average chase flick.
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