I’m not what you would call a Dax Shepard fan. His perpetual monotone tends to grate. But I adore Kristen Bell. She was captivating on “Veronica Mars.” In interviews, she seems smart, genuine and good-humored. She can sing and dances like a hellcat. She also loves Dax Shepard. Incidentally, he wrote and co-directed a movie for the two of them to star in. It’s called “Hit and Run” and it’s a Tarantino-esque romantic comedy in which the romance is as much about the car as it is about the girl. I was curious to try and find out what Kristen Bell sees in Dax Shepard. And I think I sort of did.
Shepard and Bell’s fantasy counterparts are Annie and Charlie Bronson, a young couple living in a one-horse California town where Annie teaches at the local college. Charlie’s income source remains a mystery. When Annie’s portfolio review turns into a potential dream job offer, she faces the classic dilemma of a girl having to choose between her career and her man. This time, the hitch is that her boyfriend is in the witness protection program and her job is in Los Angeles, the very city he had to leave in order to keep on living.
Still, Charlie loves Annie so much that he decides to risk his life in order to stay with her. He rationalizes his decision with the fact that L.A. is “a pretty big city” and that perhaps enough time has passed the threat has blown over. This might have even worked if Annie hadn’t accidentally tipped off her jealous ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum) about her plans. Claiming that he fears for her safety, her ex sets in motion a series of events, which culminates in a little bit of ultraviolence and Shepard’s version of the Mexican standoff – a multi-participant car chase at an air field. Among the many parties on their tail is Randy, the bumbling U.S. Marshall assigned to Bronson’s case, played with utmost idiocy by Tom Arnold. There’s no other way to put it; “Hit and Run” lost coolness points by casting Arnold and really for even creating this character in the first place. During these moments, the film resembles the sillier parts of the “Dukes of Hazzard.”
Another weak link is Kristin Chenowith, not for her performance – she merely did what was asked of her – but for the incredibly tired character of the brassy, diminutive substance abuser of a boss who shows up only to say the word “Xanax” a whole bunch of times and try to make the audience blush. In fact, Annie is the only female character to whom Shepard gave a unique personality.
But some of Shepard’s familiar characters are quite likable. Especially Bradley Cooper as Bronson’s former colleague who wants his revenge. Cooper plays Alex like Drexel’s (from “True Romance”) younger, gentler dreadlocked thug brother. He also has some of the funnier lines and a few sympathetic moments. Alex is a dog lover, for instance. Ryan Hanson (“Veronica Mars”) has a small but memorable role as Alex’s suited henchman. David Koechner is appropriately menacing as a lascivious hillbilly who gums up the already gummy works real good.
I should also mention the car. It’s a tricked-out 1967 Lincoln Continental that Charlie custom built with his now estranged father. The car is the first of many things from his past that Charlie neglected to mention to Annie. He also left out his knack for stunt driving; a skill that gives their getaway from the bad guys a fair chance of success.
Kristen Bell has the ability to be adorable in everything she does, and Annie is no different. Annie could have easily come off as nagging and uptight, but most of the time, you’re on her side. Unfortunately, even she can’t sell the inconsistencies in her character and the massive conflict between her and Shepard that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Well, maybe not, “nowhere.” It’s at the traditional point in the third act in which the girlfriend has had enough and storms off, deciding that despite her intense love for her fuckup of a man, she can’t be with him anymore. Shepard clearly took such pains to avoid clichés but a couple of them snuck by him anyway.
Charlie Bronson is Dax Shepard’s Tyler Durden. Shepard has taken Tarantino’s fan boy fervor that much further, making a film that is a love letter to both his hobbies and his lady. It’s so goddamned earnest that even when it’s lame, it’s still a little bit cute. Dax Shepard doesn’t care if you get his references. He just wants the chance to make them.
He also wanted to make a little bit of car porn. Right before Charlie Bronson shows Annie what he can do behind the wheel, he straps her in with a hilariously large restraint belt and purrs, “It’s about to get pretty radical.” And then it actually does! But Shepard doesn’t overdo it. He spends as much time making fun of the vehicular fetishizing as it does reveling in it. Annie notes that the car is an asshole magnet, which seems to attract those she can only describe as “rapists.”
The film isn’t all flash. It has an emotional center that explores being able to forgive and forget and keep the past in the past. It hypothesizes that change is possible. Shepard reportedly has a history of drug abuse, but now he’s on a TV show about having kids and gets his kicks by renting sloths for his fiancé. There are always exceptions but, for the most part, people are known to grow up eventually. Perhaps it’s not out of the realm of possibility that “Hit and Run” is a window into the Bell/Shepard relationship. If it is, they seem like a sweet couple.
Overall, I can’t say I’m a Dax Shepard convert. I’m not going to scour the back catalog. But I will probably watch whatever his brain comes up with next. He’s piqued my interest with this one. There is room for improvement, but he might win me over yet. Really, I’m just happy if Kristen’s happy.
Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).