Dax Shepard became famous as one of Ashton Kutcher’s crew of pranksters on the now-defunct TV show Punk’d before settling into a career of playing loudmouthed jerks in middling-to-bad comedy films. (I haven’t seen him on his TV show Parenthood.) He writes, co-directs, and stars in the new caper movie Hit & Run, and the surprising thing about it — the only surprising thing — is how it reveals a performer who, at age 37, is trying to prove that he’s more than just the poor man’s version of Seann William Scott. The serious intentions behind this light piece of entertainment don’t make it into a good movie, but they do keep it from becoming a bad one.
Shepard portrays Charlie, a guy living under federal witness protection in a nowhere town in California with his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell), a Stanford-trained psychologist who’s scraping a living as a vastly overqualified community college instructor. This changes when Annie receives an offer to head up a new psych department at a university in Los Angeles, 500 miles from where they live. When Annie waffles about leaving her boyfriend, Charlie insists on driving her to L.A., even at the risk of being spotted by Alex (Bradley Cooper), the dreadlocked, gun-toting, surfer-dude bank robber whom Charlie put in prison. Alex is now out of jail and pissed off, and when he finds out where Charlie is, the chase is on.
Hit & Run — could no one think of a better title? — tries to be several things at once. It’s a thriller with several car chase sequences in California’s backroads. It’s a comedy that includes the likes of Randy (Tom Arnold), a clumsy, absent-minded U.S. Marshal who seems to need protection from himself. And it’s a romance between two people whose relationship is shaken when it comes out that Charlie has let Annie get the wrong impression about why he’s in witness protection. Strangely enough, it’s the romance that works best, not only because of the assured banter between real-life spouses Shepard and Bell but because of the way the characters are written as mutually supportive adults who tend to each other’s feelings. Sweetly, Charlie never wavers in his resolve to help Annie land her dream job, even though that job might take her away from him.
Under the co-direction of Shepard and David Palmer, the movie seldom loses momentum and maintains a consistent tone, not an easy feat considering the mix of story genres here. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t all that good at anything in particular. The punchlines miss more often than they land, and the action sequences are dull even though some of the scenes (like the four-way chase at an abandoned airfield) look like they required some serious stunt driving. The movie isn’t offensive. It’s just forgettable on its own terms. What’s worth remembering out of this is that Dax Shepard is trying to break out of the Hollywood typecasting box that he’s landed in. If he finds better collaborators, he might just do it.
Hit & Run
Starring Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. Directed by Dax Shepard and David Palmer. Written by Dax Shepard. Rated R.