Shepard explores life, love, danger in “Hit and Run”

The summer blockbuster season is winding down, and before the movie industry segues into a brief horror-flick release period in conjunction with Halloween, followed by the feel-good holiday offerings and the awards-season lineup, there are a few breezy films out there that offer pleasant enough entertainment.

One such movie is “Hit and Run,” the brainchild of “Punk’d” star Dax Shepard and his creative partner David Palmer. “H&R” is a chase-movie comedy that is definitely aimed for adult audiences.

Shepard wrote the screenplay, co-directed with Palmer and stars in the movie, along with Kristen Bell, to whom he is engaged in real life.

Shepard plays Charles Bronson, a man in the witness protection program. He lives with Annie (Bell) in some out of the way California town, assuming the Bronson name as he tries to live under the radar after testifying as a witness to a bank robbery and shooting.

The sweet relationship between Charles and Annie hits a snag when she is offered a dream job that requires her to relocate to Los Angeles. This presents a problem, as Charles, if he moves to LA with Annie, puts himself at risk. Nevertheless, he loves Annie and decides he will accompany her.

Of course, there have to be other conflicts thrown in. Annie’s former boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), is convinced Charles is a psychopath will kill Annie eventually. He does a little research and learns that Charles’ real name is Yul Perrkins, and unable to get his brother Terry (Jess Rowland), a sheriff’s deputy, to pursue Charles/Yul and Annie as they head for LA, goes in pursuit himself.

It turns out Charles/Yul was not entirely forthcoming to Annie about his life before entering the witness protection program. He had told Annie he was a bystander witness to the robbery, when in reality he was the getaway driver for that robbery plus about a dozen previous bank heists. Now, his former friend and partner in crime, Alex Dmitri (a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper), would love to track Charles/Yul down for some payback. Gil contacts Alex via Facebook and soon Alex, with girlfriend Neve (Joy Bryant) and crime partner Allen (Ryan Hansen) in tow, join the chase.

Also in the fray is Tom Arnold as Randy Anderson, a bumbling, highly-stressed U.S. Marshal who always has problems with firing his gun at the wrong times. He goes after Charles/Yul, fearing the man will be in danger now that he is on the road.

Shepard pieces together some funny verbal encounters, particularly between Charles and Randy, and even allows Cooper to be showcased in a scene that provides some humanity in the Alex character.

Meanwhile, Shepard and Bell have some good chemistry between them. Bell’s Annie is a young woman who has developed an innovative new social science based on non-violent conflict resolution. Yet despite her expertise in this field, she benefits greatly from Charles’ simple tension-relieving, deep-breathing psyche-up sessions.

Shepard’s Charles/Yul is a nice guy but a person who goofed up in his younger years. Now he is determined to put that life behind him. He is genuine in his efforts, under Annie’s guidance, to be more sensitive and politically correct.

Among the staples of comedic scenes are the ones in which two people are trying to resolve their relationship issues amid chaos. In “H&R,” as Charles/Yul and Annie are fleeing for their lives, they bicker over what is honest in their relationship. It recalls the classic finale in “Grosse Point Blank” when professional killer Martin Blank (John Cusack), in the middle of a fierce gun battle against other trained killers, pauses between shootouts to make amends with Debi (Minnie Driver), the girl he ditched 10 years earlier.

“Hit and Run” provides humor in both dialog and physical comedy, the latter provided by Arnold’s frenetic Randy. Brief appearances by Beau Bridges, Jason Bateman and Kristen Chenowith add texture to this summertime comedy.

Sometimes it is easy to get names mixed up, usually because of similarities in spelling or whatever. For years I have managed to do the old name goof with actors Scott Glenn and Scott Wilson. In my review of “The Bourne Legacy, I wrote that Scott Wilson was among the cast. It was Scott Glenn. Wilson was very much on my mind because the new season of “The Walking Dead” is coming up and Wilson has a key role in that wonderful series.

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