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updated: 8/21/2012 4:18 PM

Action/comedy 'Hit & Run' races along

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  • Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) makes time with a pretty local college professor (Kristen Bell) in "Hit & Run."

    Charlie Bronson (Dax Shepard) makes time with a pretty local college professor (Kristen Bell) in "Hit & Run."

  • Video: Hit and Run trailer


Dax Shepard's redneck NASCAR romance/action comedy "Hit & Run" aspires to overhaul and restart a largely dormant movie genre once gleefully exploited by the winning actor/director team of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham.

OK, "Hit & Run" is no "Smokey and the Bandit," but Shepard -- juggling director, actor and writer duties here -- updates the blue-collar road comedy genre with a coming-out gay subplot, a redeemable scalawag of a hero and many (make that too many) slow-motion speeding car homages to Needham's high-octane-powered body of work.

Shepard plays a scruffy fellow named Charlie Bronson. And if you think that name sounds fake, it is.

Charlie has been hiding out in a tiny California hamlet as part of a witness protection program under the not-so-protective wing of Tom Arnold's standard-issue doofus, bumbling U.S. marshal Randy Anderson.

Charlie has found romance with Annie (Shepard's real-life love Kristen Bell), who teaches conflict resolution classes at a local community college.

The plot kicks in when her well-meaning boss (the underutilized Kristin Chenoweth) pushes Annie to interview for a UCLA position she's been dreaming of for ages.

Charlie reluctantly agrees to drive her to UCLA, and we slowly discover that not only is his real name Yul Perrkins (named after Yul Brynner), but he apparently witnessed a bank robbery, which explains why he's in witness protection.

Charlie and Annie barely hit the road in his super-macho turbocharged Lincoln Continental when his true identity and location reach Alex Dmitri (Bradley Cooper beneath mutant dreadlocks), the ruthless leader of the bank robbers Charlie testified against.

With the revenge/chase components in place, "Hit & Run" travels quickly over familiar ground.

Call this movie "Smokey and the Hangover," a good-ol'-boy cross-country car chase adventure punctuated by hefty doses of un-PC humor, R-rated nudity, adult language and rough acts of violence.

Directed by Shepard and David Palmer (who collaborated on the 2010 mockumentary "Brother's Justice"), "Hit & Run" plays just like the mediocre, late-August theater filler we might expect to see sandwiched between summer's blockbusters and autumn's more serious fare.

Shepard, who found his acting niche as Crosby the family screw-up in NBC's low-key series "Parenthood," lacks both the charm and charisma of a bona fide movie star.

Nonetheless, he imbues Charlie with a lovable quality in that he's willing to risk his safety and even change himself for the sake of his relationship with Annie.

This, and the sheer electricity between Bell and Shepard, go a long way to explaining why a smart college professor with a Ph.D. would hang out with a guy like Charlie.

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