By Owen Gleiberman
Updated August 28, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
Jeffrey Reed

Dax Shepard, who stars in the agreeably shaggy romance/chase movie/Tarantino knockoff Hit & Run, has a talent for playing sleazy-smart deceivers who have somehow held on to their innocence. In Hit & Run, which he wrote and codirected (with David Palmer), he plays a retired crook named Charlie Bronson (a fake name chosen when the character ditched L.A. to enter Witness Protection). Squirreled away in a pastoral small town, Charlie got involved with Annie (Kristen Bell), a college professor who adores him — but is also terrified by the fact that she knows next to nothing about him. Looking at Shepard, who has the lopsided grin of a happy-talk used-car salesman, offset by very serious eyes that perpetually study whomever he’s babbling to, we know just how she feels.

When Annie lands a job interview, Charlie agrees to drive her to L.A. in his souped-up, death-black 1967 Lincoln Continental, a road odyssey that lures out all the colorful underworld vermin who’ve been waiting for him to emerge from the woodwork. Hit & Run is filled with pop-up-book hooligans who can’t stop talking: Bradley Cooper (underacting nicely) as a dreadlocked sociopath, Tom Arnold (overacting loudly) as a gay U.S. marshal so closeted he’s about to explode. The dialogue veers into digressions about ADHD, the cruddiness of mainstream dog food, and much else. That these asides prove more fun than the central action is what gives Hit & Run its flavor: tasty at times, even if the film evaporates as you watch it. B