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'Hit and Run' review: Dopey action-comedy features a car with a missing engine. How fitting.

** (out of four)

Star/writer/co-director Dax Shepard’s “Hit and Run” possesses such a sheepish, hey-man-I’m-trying-here charm that deriding it feels a little like poking a puppy.

However, a chase movie should never be sluggish, and characters accidentally barging in on a hotel room full of naked elderly people doesn’t exactly qualify as inspired comedy. It’s more the result of a conversation going something like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we included some naked people who the audience doesn’t want to see naked?”

Shepard (whose great work on “Parenthood” balances out a mostly dreadful movie career, save “Idiocracy”) plays Charlie, a man living in the shadow of a past that his girlfriend, Annie (Shepard’s real-life fiancé Kristen Bell), doesn’t know about. Charlie has spent four years in small-town California as part of the witness protection program, but a can’t-miss career opportunity for Annie in L.A. means Charlie will have to swallow any fear or logic and return to the city where the criminals he testified against want revenge.

Appearing as one of the crooks Charlie wants to avoid, Bradley Cooper sports dreadlocks and again suggests that any trace of his early charisma is now reserved for smiles on magazine covers.

Shepard and Bell have some sweet moments, and there’s something to be said for the rare onscreen discussion about insensitive language. (Charlie claims that he can use the three-letter F-word if he’s not referring to a person, to which Annie responds that he probably wouldn’t like it if she called her purse the N-word.) Yet the movie has a consistent sensation of being stalled, with its exploration of relationship dynamics muffled between bland chase sequences and too many jokes about an app called the Pouncer that helps gay people connect. That cheap stretch for laughs doesn’t quite coincide with Shepard and Bell’s statement that they’ll wait to get married until everyone can.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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