"ON PAPER, it's like: car chases, buttfucking jokes, naked old people... this is not a ladies film," says Kristen Bell. I've just told her, somewhat tactlessly, that I liked her new film, Hit and Run, a lot more than I expected to—I don't normally go in for buttfucking jokes. But in cheerfully splicing together crude humor, romcom smushiness, and old-school car chases, Hit and Run gets smart, surprisingly sophisticated results.
Bell's fiancé, Dax Shepard, wrote and co-directed the film; the couple swung by Portland a few months ago for a round of press interviews. Interviewing Bell and Shepard is like talking to very erudite golden retriever puppies, or slightly better versions of people I already know: They're smart and high-spirited and pleasantly self-deprecating, and very, very goofy. (At one point, Bell pretended to stab Shepard in the chest with a swizzle stick; he obligingly died for a moment, then popped up to make sure I'd gotten everything I needed from the interview.)
In Hit and Run, Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, a car-loving former bank robber. (He got to pick his own new name after he wound up in the Witness Protection Program.) At the film's outset, Charlie's been tracked down by the gang he betrayed, and he's suddenly tasked with avoiding his vengeance-set former friends while getting his girlfriend—played by Bell—to LA for a job interview. And of course, there's a catch: Bell's character is largely clueless about Charlie's criminal past.
Shepard wrote Hit and Run specifically for the actors who are in it—in addition to Bell, that includes Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, and Kristin Chenoweth. He also took a cue from old Steve McQueen movies and did the driving himself in the action scenes, with Bell right next to him in the passenger seat. "Car chases in the last 10 years have become largely computer generated," says Shepard. "Once that happens you can sense that you're basically watching a videogame. Our car chases are less spectacular, yet there's far more of an emotional connection to what's happening." The film's best example of that emotional connection comes during one of the lengthier chase sequences: As Shepard spins the car through a series of sharp turns, Bell's character unceremoniously pukes. ("That's a reality for us!" Bell exclaimed. "Sometimes he makes me nauseous when he drives.")
Hit and Run's comedic sensibility is reminiscent of Eastbound & Down writer/director Jody Hill—and Shepard doesn't shirk from tasteless jokes, seeming confident that his heart is in the right place. At one point, Bell's character chastises Shepard's for saying "fag." In a worse movie, this would be an example of a naggy girlfriend being naggy; here, it's a gentle correction to a thoughtless turn of phrase. "I think a guy who's in the Witness Protection Program still says 'fag' when he means 'lame,'" Shepard explains. "I'm from Detroit. I was into drag racing my whole life. That's what people say, like it or not. And I think a lot of people say it without any meaning behind it, and that's what I wanted to explore."
That Bell's character can explain to Shepard's why "fag" is a hurtful word, and that Shepard's character can accept it, gets to the heart of what Hit and Run is really about: Two people who love each other deciding what they can and can't accept in a partner. Well, that, and buttfucking jokes.