"HIT AND RUN" — ★★1/2 — Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Kristin Chenoweth; R (pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content); in general release
In ancient times, before the phrases "global warming" and "peak oil" ruined our fun, Hollywood used to make car-chase comedies, automotive epics that were more about burnt rubber than good acting.
An aspiring director like Ron Howard could launch his career with "Eat My Dust" and "Grand Theft Auto." Burt Reynolds could slip on a hat and slip behind the wheel of a Trans Am and fans would follow "Smokey and the Bandit" anywhere.
That's the tradition "Hit and Run" fits into. Hollywood gearhead Dax Shepard, of "Baby Mama" and TV's "Parenthood," rounded up his fiancée and "When in Rome" co-star, Kristen Bell, and a bunch of their friends, piled into a collection of cars — classic and new — and tore up some California backroads in a movie about, well, tearing up rural California backroads.
Shepard plays "Charlie Bronson." No, that's not his real name. He's in the witness protection program, far from Los Angeles. One thing that is real is Charlie's love for community college "conflict resolution" teacher Annie (Bell).
"If you want, I'll spend every moment with you for the rest of my life," he coos to her. She swoons.
That is tested when Annie has a shot at a job with a college in L.A. Charlie can kiss her goodbye and stay out of the city where his life is in danger. Or he can risk it all for love.
His accident-prone witness protection marshal (Tom Arnold) is against it. Annie's ex (Michael Rosenbaum) is bent on stopping them.
And waiting in L.A. is the psychopathic, dreadlocked killer (Bradley Cooper, in fine form) just waiting for this guy not-really-named-Charles Bronson to make an appearance so they can settle old scores.
Charlie figures Annie's worth the risk. He pulls his entirely-too-distinctive suicide-doors hot rod Lincoln out of mothballs and dashes south, pursued by the hapless Randy (Arnold) in his minivan and the lunatic Gil (Rosenbaum) in his Pontiac Solstice roadster.
It's a movie of random, comical cameos (Kristin Chenoweth, David Koechner) and raunchy riffs. Annie tries to anger-manage everybody, to no avail. Charlie tries to outrun everybody, with no better result.
It doesn't really hold together and stand up to much scrutiny. But the car stuff is fun, some bits are laugh-out-loud funny, and Bell and Shepard make an adorable couple.
When you see that yes, that's really Shepard doing his own stunts and Bell is in the car with him, it adds to the movie's retro sense of automotive anarchy.
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"Hit and Run" only aims to be a B-movie — it's plot is nonsensical and it's pace is sluggish in between the chases.
You can criticize it for a lack of ambition and lack of budget to do a really epic chase. But you have to hand the wheel off to Shepard & Co. They're onto something the cinema has missed since the days when the gears were grinding in your local grindhouse. Somebody find this man a Trans Am.
"Hit and Run" is rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content; running time: 100 minutes.