Highway hooligans make for summer fun

  • Updated: August 21, 2012 - 3:14 PM

In "Hit and Run," old-fashioned car-chase stunts are interrupted occasionally by a romance that has its sweet moments.

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Charlie (Dax Shepard) and Annie (Kristen Bell) indulge in some comic bickering in "Hit and Run."

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"Hit and Run" has a drive-in goofiness that Roger Corman would admire. This one checks all the boxes for summer escapism: hot cars, hotter women, highway hooliganism, a hell-raising hero, hapless cops, hilarious villains, no plot and no apologies. It's a high-performance, tire-smokin' auto chase designed to appeal equally to gearheads, action fans and tag-along girlfriends who like a little kissing and relationship talk along with all the carsploitation.

The movie is no triumph of storytelling, but it's a fine example of colorful filmmaking. The plot revolves -- or rather careens -- around Charlie (Dax Shepard), a laid-back rural Californian, and his sweetheart, postgrad student Annie (Kristin Bell, Shepard's real-life fiancée). Though his last name is Bronson, Charlie is about as assertive as a bean bag, which may be part of his appeal for Annie. Her academic focus is nonviolent conflict resolution, so naturally she's drawn to the most easygoing guy in the county.

The overture is ham-handed comedy, with too-cute comic bickering between the lovebirds, shrub-shredding automotive slapstick involving a visiting U.S. marshal (Tom Arnold) unable to keep his minivan on the road.

The opening scenes are so inept it seems unimaginable the film will get on track and tell us a tale. Soon enough, Charlie pulls the tarp off his hot-rodded 1967 Lincoln Continental to drive Annie to L.A. for her dream faculty job interview. That muscle car is as black as Charlie's past, which resurfaces to transform their leisurely drive into a stuntman's holiday.

Soon they're at the head of a high-revving motorcade with the federal lawman, Annie's stalkerish ex, two bumbling local cops and Charlie's best-friend-turned-nemesis (Bradley Cooper) in hot pursuit. Charlie, it seems, has some history with the witness-protection program and bank robbery.

The film boasts several slumming stars in odd, juicy roles, with Kristin Chenoweth, Beau Bridges and Sean Hayes in pleasingly eccentric turns. Cooper, usually a suave guy, is the wildest and wooliest of all. His vengeful robber sports yellow aviator glasses, a cascade of blond dreadlocks and appalling fire-engine-red track pants. He's the sort of hair-trigger psycho who acts pacifist one moment and pistol-whips a bystander for purchasing inferior dog food the next.

Shepard, a gangly guy who's cute for a comedian, makes Charlie an ongoing surprise. He's more resourceful than we expect, and forever struggling to keep the inherent violence of the chase from escalating into something terminal. He and Bell ad-lib effortlessly. We see the playful chemistry that would keep them together even when parting would be the practical move. As the yarn moves along, Bell's Annie comes across as an unusually intelligent and assertive girlfriend. Charlie is given some funny-offensive thoughtless things to say about minorities, and under Annie's politically correct prodding he learns to think first and talk later. It's a clever way to combine guilty laughs with teachable moments.

Sharing director's duties with David Palmer, Shepard sort of clobbers you with scenes. His favorites involve cars driving very fast, side by side, trading paint. This is ridiculous, but it's sublimely ridiculous -- pure old-school stunt work. No CGI, just real cars crashing into real cars and real brave people driving 'em. If you miss those "Cannonball Run" days of the 1970s when gas was $5 a tank, anything less than six cylinders was a joke, and the asphalt stretched on forever, your film has arrived.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • HIT AND RUN

    ★★★ out of four stars

    Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content.

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