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'Hit and Run' charms despite some distracting detours

REVIEW: A chase-oriented B-movie that borrows from "True Romance" for both good and ill, Dax Shepard and David Palmer's "Hit and Run" benefits from a surprisingly sweet vibe and easygoing chemistry between Shepard and co-star Kristen Bell, both in fine form. Its high-octane but low-stakes action might be just the thing for moviegoers weary of summer's operatic superheroes.

Dax Shepard and Tom Arnold talk 'Hit and Run' 

Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, an L.A. bank robber who, after his partners killed a security guard, testified against them and was hidden in tiny Milton, Calif. Bronson's a sensitive stoolie, though, and showers new girlfriend Annie (Bell) with daily affirmations and selfless love. Still, he hasn't told her how he came to be in the witness-protection program, letting her believe he's always been the benevolent charmer he is today.

VIDEO: Dax Shepard and a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper square off in 'Hit and Run' trailer

When Annie gets a job offer she can't refuse in L.A., Charlie decides to risk going home -- breaking out the muscle car he drove in his bad-boy days to take her downstate. Unfortunately the vintage Continental (with suicide doors, natch) not only brings out traces of Charlie's old self -- cue an amusing debate over acceptable usage of the word "fag" -- but is a clue allowing Annie's old boyfriend Gil (Michael Rosenbaum) to suss out Charlie's identity and, in an effort to split them up, to contact his revenge-minded old gang.

What follows is an old-fashioned cross-country pursuit in which the aforementioned parties are joined by the marshal (Tom Arnold) responsible for Charlie's welfare and a pair of highway patrol officers. It's an enjoyable ride, though the filmmakers push some gags close to the breaking point. Arnold's accident-prone cop, who can barely touch his gun without shooting innocent bystanders, is too clumsy by half (not to mention loud). And Bradley Cooper, as the ringleader of Charlie's old gang, seems inexplicably to be offering a variation on the ineffably strange pimp Gary Oldman played in "True Romance": Dreadlocked and wearing yellow-tinted shades, he's a white boy affecting ghetto attitude and afflicted by an in-and-out Southern drawl. The performance is the most distracting, but certainly not the only, reminder of Tony Scott's 1993 chase-romance; even the soundtrack, with its echoes of Hans Zimmer's marimba, doffs its hat.

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In the most important respects, though, "Hit and Run" makes its lovers-on-the-lam premise its own. Shepard is as likable as ever, believably pairing gentleness with outlaw savvy; Bell doesn't take Annie's indignation at Charlie's past so far that we hold it against her. Beau Bridges as Charlie's estranged dad is a standout in the supporting cast, requiring just a few minutes of screen time to lend some emotional depth to the hero's backstory.

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