A caper with gags within easy reach

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard in a scene from "Hit & Run," a light comedy with action.

Hit & Run has the look and feel of a vanity project. Like someone was willing to bankroll the wish of Hollywood couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell to work together on a film. They just weren't willing to sink a whole lot of money into it.

That's not to say this shoestring cross between one of Burt Reynolds' old muscle-car movies and the blue satire of Reno 911 is without its charm and its laughs.

It's just that if Shepard hadn't been able to coax friends like Bradley Cooper into participating, Hit & Run would be opening on PPV.

Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is a brilliant academic - stop laughing! we haven't gotten to the jokes yet - stuck at a supremely undistinguished school. She gets a great offer in L.A., but her boyfriend, Shepard (Employee of the Month), is inexplicably unwilling to leave their no-horse town.

The reason for his reluctance becomes obvious as soon as he busts his hot-rod Lincoln out of the shed and determines to drive her.

It quickly turns into a Gumball Rally as they are chased by Bell's clingy ex-boyfriend (Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum), a fumble-fingered federal marshal (Tom Arnold), a gay highway patrolman (Jess Rowland) on the prowl, and a vicious gang of bank robbers (lead by Bradley Cooper in a ratty-dred wig).

There are a number of supporting roles and cameos for actors like Kristin Chenoweth, David Koechner, Beau Bridges, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes. Shepard gets to act opposite his real girlfriend (Bell) and his TV girlfriend (Parenthood's Joy Bryant).

Every person in the movie has a quirky character note that keeps gags within easy reach at all times.

The problem is that Hit & Run can't really settle on a tone. It's a goofy caper that turns savage.

The comedy is light but appealing. The action scenes, directed by David Palmer and Shepard, are dreadful. The car chases all seem to happen on back roads and in industrial parking lots. What, the budget wouldn't cover going out in traffic?

You know a film is thin when you find yourself focusing on the score, in this case a choice jukebox from vintage Lou Rawls to classic Jimi Hendrix.

Hit & Run is a pleasant enough diversion - but more of the PPV persuasion.

Hit & Run *1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by David Palmer and Dax Shepard. With Kristen Bell, Shepard, Bradley Cooper, and Tom Arnold. Distributed by Open Road Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 mins.

Parent's guide: R (pervasive profanity, nudity, adult themes, drug content)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv.