Movies, like life, are all about expectations.
Book a table at a four-star restaurant and you expect -- no, demand -- a memorable meal. Buy a ticket for a movie where Oscar-winning performers are elbow to elbow and you hope for genius.
Slip into a car-chase comedy called "Hit & Run," about which you know nothing, and you might walk away pleasantly (if mildly) surprised. It's like a junker with a new engine under the rust-pitted hood. It runs far better than you might have hoped, thanks largely to leads with natural chemistry and actors who pop up in surprising disguises or small roles.
2.5 stars = Average
- Starring: Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Bradley Cooper.
- Rating: R for pervasive language including sexual references, graphic nudity, some violence and drug content.
"Hit & Run" stars Dax Shepard and real-life fiancee Kristen Bell as a couple residing in a small rural town in central California. He's Charlie Bronson, obviously not his real name, living under the bubble of the witness protection program, and she is Annie, a specialist in nonviolent conflict resolution who is handed the interview of a lifetime.
If she doesn't go after the job -- in Los Angeles -- her boss at the local college will fire her. But if she does and lands the gig, she will be separated from Charlie.
"The one thing that makes me happy, that makes this ... town bearable is leaving," an upset Charlie says, before deciding that he will drive Annie to LA, a city he left behind four years ago. He and she don't count on Annie's former boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), deciding to punish Charlie for stealing away Annie.
Gil might as well have fired a starter's pistol and before you know it, a parade of people are on the road, including an accident-prone U.S. marshal (Tom Arnold) and a former bank robber (Bradley Cooper) with messy dreadlocks and an even wilder violent streak.
The chase is on, with surprises and revelations at a couple of turns in this movie inspired by the spirit of 1977's "Smokey and the Bandit" starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason.
"Hit & Run" forces everyone onto the road and sets the frantic pace. It also tries to have it both ways by allowing occasional offensive language or exchanges and then calling the users on it.
When secrets from Charlie's past come spilling out, he asks the sort of question found in a standard romcom: "You can either wallow in a person's past or see the person now in front of you." You can't do both, he wisely suggests.
Mr. Shepard wrote and co-directed (with David Palmer) "Hit & Run," a fun R-rated summer movie opening in theaters today. The less you know, the better; that way, when Charlie's 1967 Lincoln Continental and oddball backup vehicle lead to surprising places and faces, you can lean back, buckle up and enjoy the ride.