I don't want to give away the funniest lines in Dax Shepard's surprisingly excellent Hit and Run -- and there are lots of them, but about three minutes into the film when Shepard's character says "Bye, Randy!" to Tom Arnold and he answers, "You, too!" I was all in.
Full disclosure -- the film was co-directed by my talented and handsome nephew David Palmer, which actually made me extra wary of liking it too much, but there is a light-hearted goofiness to this rom-com/action hybrid that just plain works. Swear.
"We were like kids who got the keys to the grown-ups' house and had some fun," says Palmer. "No studios and no suits, just our brand of comedy." He adds that the real spark comes from the heart and mind of the film's screenwriter and protagonist Dax Shepard, joined by fiancée and co-star Kristen Bell.
"Dax loves Kristen," he adds, "and Dax loves cars. It's all there."
The story centers on Shepard as one Charlie Bronson who is hiding in the witness protection program for his role as getaway driver turned informant in an armed robbery. He decides to leave the safety of his new life in a small rural southern California town to drive Annie, his Stanford-educated fiancé (Bell) to Los Angeles for her dream job as, yes, a conflict resolution expert.
The road trip goes quickly to hell as they are chased by her overly invested ex, his parole officer (Arnold), two Reno-inspired cops and his former partners in crime, led by a dreadlocked and fabulously insane Bradley Cooper whom we may have forgotten can play the best of bad guys.
Dax Shepard -- most recently featured on NBC's Parenthood -- is one of these half-handsome, half-awkward, over-the-top, too-tall guys whose intensity can easily veer into the annoying, but this performance wins us over by sheer determination. The key could be his real-life relationship with co-star Kristen Bell. Her petite, blonde good looks and palpable straight-arrowness play perfectly against his bad-boy muscle-car proclivities. Their constant bickering about semantics and sensibility feels quite real; there is lots of smart relationship dialogue that gives both sincerity and energy to the on-screen relationship. She seems to save him from his worst self and he cracks her up -- the result is a very fresh take on romantic and lasting love. With lots of car chases while arguing if it's ever ok to use the word 'fag.'
I interviewed Shepard and Bell about the film and working together:
Nancy Doyle Palmer: Do some qualities of the on-screen romance mirror your real relationship, i.e. calling each other Stupid or Buddy, the verbal sparring and parsing, the good girl/bad boy element of opposite attraction?
Dax Shepard: Absolutely. Just as we drew on our real cars, real friends, and real family members (my sister is the female sheriff), we drew on our relationship to ground the film in reality. A lot of crazy things happen in Hit and Run, and we felt that we could get away with that as long as we always returned to something truthful between Charlie and Annie. We do use those words in "real life," and we do have drastically different backgrounds.
NDP: Did either of you learn anything new about the other as actors
working together in these roles? Any surprises?
Kristen Bell: I learned that Dax was a really good leader, and that he looks even cuter when he is behind a monitor concentrating.
Dax Shepard: My opinion of Kristen as an actor couldn't have been higher. I've already seen her be heartbreaking in dramas, hysterical in comedies, and melodious in musicals. She is drastically more talented than me.
NDP: There is a sweetness and a sincerity in how these two characters prevail that feels genuine and in my view elevates the film. Since Dax wrote the screenplay is it fair to say movie offers some insight into your relationship?
Kristen Bell: Not really. It more resembles our relationship four years ago when we were wrestling with trust issues.
NDP: I understand that Dax did almost all of the stunt driving himself and that Kristen was always in the car with him -- any close calls? Do you drive together off-screen like that?
Dax Shepard: We have taken detours on vacation to visit famous race tracks. We did four laps on the world renowned Nurburgring Ring in Germany in a rented Porsche from Avis. Kristen is the most relaxed passenger I've ever driven with. It's a match made in heaven.
NDP: How and why did actors like Kristen Chenoweth, Beau Bridges, Sean Hayes and Bradley Cooper come to star in Hit and Run?
Kristen Bell: The cast of Hit And Run is basically our entire social circle. The longer you do this job, the more and more you come to appreciate working with friends. It becomes a priority. The fact that all these amazing actors donated their time to us is both a testament to what great friends they are and how much fun we all have together. It's very unique to be in a circle that is THIS supportive.
NDP: This is a summer movie not only in release but in the feel of the shoot. No studio involvement, no dailies, and a very small budget. Is there a point here about ownership?
Dax Shepard: I think we tapped into something that was palpable in the Hal Needham movies, like Smokey and The Bandit, Cannonball Run and Hooper. It is very, very clear that we are all having a ton of fun making the movie. You can feel that we love each other, and it's contagious.
Another plus are the cameo performances by Cooper, Tom Arnold, Beau Bridges, Kristen Chenoweth, Sean Hayes (to die for) and newcomer Jess Rowland. Rowland plays a cop who uses an app based on the real-life Grindr that uses GPS to find instant gay hook-ups. He's sublime in the role and told me how thrilling it was to be part of such an A-list ensemble: "I'm sure I was the only person in the movie with a big part who had to leave the shoot to go wait tables at my steak house."
Hit and Run makes us actually believe there is a community of actors in Los Angeles who show up for each other. There is also a sense of energy and joyous improv to the performances that make more mainstream summer comedies like The Campaign seem stale in comparison.
Hit and Run is seriously fun, and what's not to like about that?