Gearheads unite! Others disperse—to paraphrase the archetypal patrolman, there's nothing to see here in Hit and Run, a chase comedy from Dax Shepard. Nothing, that is, but a lot of hotdog stunt driving, much of it performed by the movie's real star: a black 1967 Lincoln Continental convertible. It may not be the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T of Vanishing Point, or the 1955 Chevy One-Fifty or 1970 Pontiac GTO of Two-Lane Blacktop, or the 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1 of Gone in 60 Seconds, but comparisons to those cult car movies are no doubt welcome, as far as Shepard is concerned.
Shepard wrote the script, co-directed (with David Palmer), co-edited, and stars in Hit and Run, as "Charles Bronson," stuck in neutral—or, rather, in Central California—as a member of the federal Witness Protection Program. A potential job in Los Angeles presses this point with Charlie's girlfriend-of-one-year Annie (Kristen Bell), and in short order the point is downright hammered by the tipped-off ex-con (Bradley Cooper) seeking revenge on Charlie. With the jig up, and Annie having only hours to get to her L.A. job interview, it's time to hit the highway. Yee-haw, and so forth.
Hit and Run isn't totally lacking in shaggy charm, and it's clearly a labor of love for Shepard and his real-life life partner (and rumored wife) Kristen Bell. It's the sort of movie where guys who normally headline their own movies (like Cooper, done up in dreads, and Jason Bateman, who puts in a cameo) will play along for the movie equivalent of minimum wage, because they respect Shepard's ambition, or just plain like the guy.
And depending on how much you like the guy (currently a regular on TV's Parenthood), you may well like Hit and Run. But don't expect much more than drifting and abrupt turns, both with the cars and the plot. The movie narrowly functions as a relationship comedy "driven" by eruptive trust issues and peppered with conversations pitched somewhere between Tarantino and Seinfeld ("I think of all Asians as women," Charlie muses at one point).
Funny and appealing in this vein, Bell seems at ease, which is nice (it's also a nice joke that Annie has a doctorate in Conflict Resolution, meaning that when she quits bickering with Charlie and running from men with guns, she'll resume teaching non-violence at the university level), and supporting players like Kristen Chenoweth and Tom Arnold (as a fumbly U.S. Marshal not to be trusted with machinery like cars and guns) perk up the movie when they're around. But ultimately, instead of feeling transported, you may feel abandoned on the side of the road.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]