Clearly influenced by Smokey and the Bandit and Bullitt, Dax Shepard’s Hit and Run is an admirable throwback to those car chase classics, loaded with cracked-out characters and enough screwball antics to adequately fill a 90-plus-minute Friday night timeslot at the multiplex.

Shepard, who also penned the screenplay and co-directed with longtime collaborator David Palmer, plays Charlie, a reformed bank robber in witness protection who comes out of hiding to take a road trip and help his girlfriend Annie (Kristen Bell) land her dream job in L.A. Hot on their tail is Charlie’s bumbling pal, U.S. Marshal Randy (Tom Arnold) and Annie’s clingy ex-boyfriend (Smallville‘s Michael Rosenbaum), who tips off Charlie’s former accomplices (led by Bradley Cooper) and sparks a statewide chase.

There’s no question that Dax the director has fun drawing out his scenes with real-life squeeze Bell. Their chemistry is undeniable, established early on in the movie’s opening scene during which the couple frolic and banter in bed. The voyeuristic moment could very well have been taken from one of their own home videos (these two are just too cutesy to dabble in sex tape shenanigans). Annie, who doesn’t find out about her boyfriend’s past life until the bullets start to fly, sufficiently freaks out, and Bell is careful not to turn her into a shrieking banshee (cough, Katherine Heigl in Killers, cough).

The rest of the cast, all pals of Shepard and Bell, is just happy to be there and do their buddies a solid. Kristin Chenowith shows up for a few scenes to play Annie’s boss and does her adorable Kristin Chenowith thing. Comedian Jess Rowland appears as Terry, an unassumingly gay cop who has fun in between patrols searching for dating prospects via his trusty iPhone app. Michael Rosenbaum delivers some delicious douchebaggery as Gil, Annie’s ex who won’t give her up. Tom Arnold brings out his neurotic nuances to play the Worst U.S. Marshal Ever. Stepping in as bad guy Alex Demetri is a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper, breezing through his scenes because — let’s face it — this is his vacation before he starts shooting The Hangover III. And let’s not forget the cameos that tickle and delight later on in the third act.

As for Dax the writer, the dialogue, while less-than-sharp at times, crackles along. The script adheres to the road trippy formula, and dagnabbit, it will go to great lengths to prove that this is one R-rated car chase comedy that wears its heart of gold on its dusty sleeve.

The stunts, staged with some impressive precision, will definitely wake up anyone who bought a ticket expecting a Fast & Furious-style actioner and didn’t anticipate getting a few scenes filled with rom-com banter. Dudes will stay for the hot chicks and hot wheels, but the ladies will stick around for the teddy-bear romance and the warm and snuggly idea of a man who will stand by his woman through hell, high water, and the occasional road block.

3/5 stars

@TheFirstEcho