A cheap, silly car-chase movie with a cute girl, Hit & Run wouldn't stand out during the August doldrums without the good-hearted direction of its writer and star, Dax Shepard. Presently seen on TV's Parenthood, he's been tilling the comedy trenches for a decade without a real showcase for his shaggy amiability. Between gigs, he's obviously been studying the car-and-a-girl movies of the '70s and '80s (Smokey and the Bandit chief among them). Here, the girl is Kristen Bell, the car is a tricked-out '67 Lincoln Continental, and the story involves Shepard's very Zen ex-robber (now in witness protection) driving his girlfriend to a job interview in L.A. In pursuit are her jealous ex, his federal minder (Tom Arnold), and his old criminal cohort (led by a dreadlocked and amusing Bradley Cooper). Not that the plot matters very much. Shepard gives us lovingly filmed peel-outs, sun flares in the windshield, cars jumping over shit . . . just because, well, cars have to jump over something. But what sets the film apart from today's vidgame-influenced car flicks is the genuine, affectionate banter between Shepard and Bell (they're an offscreen couple, too) and the odd conversational cul de sacs into which other characters drive. Shepard lets everyone, including the crooks, have their say—and then some. As a result, we end up liking everyone in the film—even a colloquy of nudists who are given nothing to say but plenty to show. Rubber burns and bullets fly, but Shepard is too fond of his characters to let anyone get hurt.
Shepard and Bell on the lam.
Opens Wed., Aug. 22 at Meridian and other theaters. Rated R. 95 minutes.