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You'll like "Hit & Run" if:


*You love seeing tricked-out muscle cars and dune buggies in full-out pursuit, revving, skidding, spraying sand and gravel, flying through the air, blasting off the road and occasionally smashing into each other.

*You like imagining what conversations might be like between a woman with a doctorate in conflict resolution and a guy in the witness protection program.

*You have a deep-down belief that love conquers all.

*You don't mind hearing people swear a lot and seeing them shoot at each other (usually, but not always, without effect; these desperados couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, except the one time a guy is literally shooting at a barn), seeing Bradley Cooper in full dreadlocked Spicoli surfer-dude getup, or getting a brief (but somehow much too long) look at a roomful of naked senior citizens. Twice.

Those are the high points of "Hit & Run," written and co-directed by tall, limpid-eyed dreamboat Dax Shepard, here with sensitive-guy longish hair and a scruffy beard. Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, who lives a picturesque life in a tiny California town with Annie Bean, a cute, blonde, precise-speaking academic played by Shepard's real-life fiancee, Kristen Bell. (Co-director David Palmer, who also worked with Shepard on "Brothers Justice," is from Rochester.)

"Hit & Run," despite its bland and forgettable name, is a rare film that succeeds as both a romantic comedy and a car-chase movie, with dialogue that rises several notches above the expected in either genre.

The first hint we get that this film goes way beyond wacky into weird is when Tom Arnold shows up as Randy Anderson, the hapless U.S. marshal assigned to protect Bronson. Randy is the kind of armed-and-dangerous bumbler you immediately like, even when he chooses an automatic weapon to solve the problem when his van slips out of park and careens toward a couple of adorable children.

Annie and Charlie have been together for a while, enjoying life in their idyllic home, when Debbie Kreeger (played by the wickedly hilarious Kristin Chenoweth), Annie's boss at a backwater community college, dangles the job of a lifetime before her, heading up a newly established conflict resolution department at UCLA. One problem: Los Angeles is where the incident happened that landed Charlie in the witness protection program. But Annie has to take this opportunity. After a sleepless night for both of them, he decides to go there with her. "It's been four years, and L.A. is a big city," Charlie says hopefully.

Heh.

With the help of Facebook and his deputy sheriff brother Terry (Jess Rowland), Annie's jealous ex, Gil (played with seductive intensity by Michael Rosenbaum), learns Charlie's real identity and alerts Charlie's nemesis, Alex Demitri, the ex-friend against whom he testified, about Charlie's whereabouts.

In his sweet, souped-up 1967 Lincoln Continental (Shepard's real-life car, as is the racing dune buggy he drives later in the film), Charlie starts driving Annie to Los Angeles for her job interview. When Gil follows them, Charlie's first reaction is to beat him up, but Annie points out that as a woman with a doctorate in conflict resolution, she cannot be with "Dog the Bounty Hunter." Charlie's attempt to reason with Gil fails and soon, the bad guys, including Shepard's "Parenthood" co-star, Joy Bryant, have joined the convoy.

The hectic car chases race through small towns, farmyards, deserts, gullies, a storage yard and even a large, deserted building. Every time Charlie and Annie shake the bad guys and stop, Charlie's car draws admiring gazes and sometimes more from a certain type of man – "let's just call them ‘rapists,' out of convenience," Annie says. The pair bicker and coo their way across the countryside, in between fancy driving, shooting and a nine-iron swung at Charlie's face.

As if there are no alternative routes to get to L.A., Charlie and Annie are repeatedly caught by the Cadillac CTS-V wagon containing the pals Charlie betrayed by Randy's increasingly battered van, Gil's sports car, and Terry's patrol car. Beau Bridges has a brief but utterly awesome role as Charlie's dad.

Balancing the car chases, which Shepard and Bell did themselves rather than using stunt doubles, is the thoughtful dialogue, which occasionally veers into the bizarre. When Alex reveals the real reason he can never forgive Charlie, the conversation deteriorates into a debate of racial stereotypes that is both fairly offensive and borderline hilarious.

The final laughs that enable this sweet-natured movie to sew up all the loose ends – thanks to a fictional app called Pouncer and the power of empathy – will leave you smiling. Just be sure to ease up on the gas on the way home.


email: aneville@buffnews.com

***

HIT & RUN

3 stars (out of 4)
Starring: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper
Directors: Dax Shepard,
David Palmer
Running time: 100 minutes
Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content.
The Lowdown: A man in witness protection is chased cross-country when he takes his girlfriend 
for a job interview.