Dax Shepard gives his friends a career showcase in ‘Hit and Run’

Dax Shepard has come a long way. His first major acting gig was assisting in Ashton Kutcher’s pranks on “Punk’d.” It paid (well as much as MTV pays), but it probably didn’t provide great clips for his acting reel. Still, he persevered, worked hard and eventually his talent won out in what has always been a very cutthroat business (and no doubt his reality background didn’t help). Currently, Shepard plays Crosby a fan favorite on NBC’s “Parenthood” and has memorable turns in flicks such as “Baby Mama,” “Let’s Go To Prison” and “Zathura.” Moreover, he’s publicly always been humble about his relatively modest success to date. When “Hit and Run” opens this Wednesday he’ll earn another career bump and be recognized for crafting a broad action comedy that’s unexpectedly sweet and dramatic. Considering it’s just his second official directorial effort and was made on a shoestring budget, Hollywood executives should be taking meetings with Shepard about his potential behind the camera and not just in front of it.

Shepard’s partial ode to comedies such as “Cannonball Run” features a strong ensemble of actors who get a chance to broaden their range. Bradley Cooper, Kristen Chenoweth, Tom Arnold and Joy Bryant are clearly all having a ball often playing against “type.” Shepard crafted most of these characters for each actor most of whom are old friends. One character who many audiences will enjoy is a gay cop played by 6’6″ red-headed who, along with his partner, get wrapped up in the film’s wild goose chase. Unless you’re a die hard fan of “General Hospital” this will likely be the first time you’ve experienced the impressive talents of Jess Rowland.

Full disclosure, I’ve known Jess for over 10 years. We’ve played basketball together in a local LA league and anyone with an eye for talent can tell you his comic timing is as good as his offensive rebounding and scoring ability. Jess is a very funny guy who met Shepard while they were both studying improv comedy at “The Groundlings.” They remained friends over the years and when Shepard was writing the script for “Hit” he specifically wrote this role for Jess. Not a one or two scene cameo, but the big break Jess has been pursuing for years. Shepard (who also wrote a quieter role for his sister in the film) was under no obligation to do this for Jess. He did it because he knew Jess would deliver and maybe a little part of him wanted to give back. So, if you see “Hit,” and I hope you do, you’ll be hard pressed not to remember Jess just as much as you remember Cooper, Shepard or Kristen Bell’s performances. In fact, during my interview with both Shepard and Bell, Bell point blank says Jess “steals the movie.”

It may sound naive, but living and working in this town for as long as I have has taught me that if you are a good person, have talent and work hard you’ll eventually get your shot and rewarded for it. Basically, you don’t need to be an epic [expletive] or sleep your way to the top to make it. Sure, many do, but their success is usually short-lived and when they eventually fall from grace it sure isn’t pretty. Knowing Jess, I’m sure he’d joke that he’d have slept with whoever he needed to for that big break, but sometimes the long road is more rewarding when you can really appreciate it. Even in tintsletown.

You can watch my interview with Shepard and Bell where, much to their surprise, we mostly talk about Jess’ performance embedded at the top of this post.

“Hit and Run” opens nationwide tomorrow and I’d highly recommend it even if I didn’t know one of the stars personally (of course I might recommend it more if he passed the ball out of the post more, but that’s a different story…)