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Real-life loves Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard co-star in Hit and Run.
Jeffrey Reed/Open Road Films
Dax Shepard wants audiences to have as much fun watching his new movie as the cast and crew had making it.

Trying to pinpoint who Dax Shepard is can be a tricky thing. The 37-year-old actor, who describes himself as “a liberal hillbilly and the salt of the earth,” admits to driving gas guzzlers but also doing transcendental meditation. He laughs: “I’m trying to establish that as some kind of archetype.”

All those qualities make Shepard distinctly similar to Charlie Bronson, the good-hearted but tightly coiled hero of Hit and Run, a smash-and-laugh road adventure co-starring a host of his pals and his real-life fiancée, Kristen Bell . If the film plays like the love child of stunt legend Hal Needham and Quentin Tarantino, it’s not remotely? accidental.

“Those are, like, two of my biggest heroes,” says Shepard, perhaps best known for his work on Parenthood and some memorable turns on MTV’s Punk’d. “The guy I play in Hit and Run, he’s like if Burt Reynolds’ character in Smokey and the Bandit was highly communicative and had some therapy. Charlie Bronson is the self-actualized Bandit.”

Born and raised in Milford, Mich., Shepard? was named for the protagonist in the best-selling Harold Robbins book The ?Adventurers and grew up worshiping ?Reynolds. Several years ago, the Groundlings vet and UCLA grad got the chance to meet his idol and earned an ?invite to lunch at ?Reynolds’ home. “It was Burt, Dom DeLuise and Jon Voight sitting around this table eating lunch, and then Robert Loggia drops by to sing some beautiful opera in perfect Italian,” he says, still in?credulous. “That was some next-level stuff, man.”

For Hit and Run, which he also ?co-directed with David Palmer and wrote, Shepard pulls a page from Reynolds’ ?glory-days playbook, surrounding himself on-screen with his best buds — including Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold and Michael Rosenbaum — for a freewheeling adventure rife with mischief, hilarity and childlike wonder. “Burt was having so much fun in Smokey and the Bandit that he actually turned to the camera at one point and smiled at the audience, and we all knew, ‘[Wow], he’s with his buddies having the time of his life and I can totally feel it,’ ” Shepard says. “I’m hoping audiences can feel that same kind of fun with Hit and Run.”

Shepard also hopes the film, which features several playfully romantic scenes between him and Bell, will finally answer Bell fans who can’t quite comprehend their real-life pairing. “I know Kristen’s male fan base is really perplexed by our whole relationship,” he says. “Hopefully, Hit and Run will answer the question: Why did Kristen Bell, a total 10, get engaged to that measly 6?”