Starsky

They’ve got guns, girls, a hot car, a badge, but most of all, they’ve got each other. They’re “Starsky & Hutch,” Bay City cops living on opposite sides of the law. David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is the anal retentive, by-the-book cop who respects the job even if his fellow officers don’t respect him.


Twelve partners in four years says it all, but Starsky keeps plugging away, hoping to live up to the legend of his career cop mother.

Ken Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is a laid back cop who has gone so far undercover that he begins to like and appreciate the unlawful life. So it’s no surprise that Police Captain Doby (Fred Williamson) makes “Starsky & Hutch” partners, forcing them to put aside their differences as they try to solve a major cocaine deal getting ready to hit the fan. After all, opposites attract.

When “Starsky & Hutch” hit the television airwaves back in 1975, they were a different breed of cop. Unlike “Dragnet” and “Adam-12,” which seemed locked in a time, “Starsky & Hutch” reflected the changing times of the country, and responded accordingly. Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and Hutch (David Soul) were hip, drove a cool car, cruised the hottest chicks and scenes, got their man, and through some sort of awkward posturing, always managed to end up in each other’s arms.

Updating “Starsky & Hutch” would be a mistake, turning it into yet another mindless and colorless action movie (dare I say “I Spy”). The trick in making a successful “Starsky & Hutch” movie is keeping the guys trapped in the seventies. Too much water has passed under and over the cop/buddy bridge since 1975, so by keeping “Starsky & Hutch” forever in bell bottom blue jeans, the filmmakers can ignore all that has come down the pike since.

As the director of “Road Trip” and “Old School,” Todd Phillips seems like an odd choice to capture a more innocent “Starsky & Hutch,” yet he’s just what the script doctor ordered. Instead of turning the film into an overblown version of the television show, Phillips and co-writers John O’Brien and Scot Armstrong treat it like a lost episode, frozen in time. The writers find plenty of humor in recreating an authentic 1970s television crime drama, from the pompous, fat-on-the-hog businessman/villain (Vince Vaughn) with a bad mustache, to the black police captain who only speaks in shouts.

The only variant is that the writers play up the homoerotic undertones of the series, thrusting Stiller’s puppy dog-eyed Starsky into an unwitting relationship with Wilson’s boyishly handsome Hutch. The writers mine plenty of laughs out of the situation, especially when a drugged Starsky swoons over Hutch as he sings David Soul’s one and only hit “Don’t Give Up On Us.” What makes these nods so funny is that everyone but Starsky and Hutch are in on the joke.

Every time you expect “Starsky & Hutch” to self-destruct, Phillips pulls back and just follows the game plan. He doesn’t shove the jokes down our throat, but allows us to discover and savor them. Phillips knows that Stiller and Owens, who have appeared in six films together, are the main draw, and allows them the freedom to fully accommodate their characters. Stiller and Wilson are so comfortable together we instantly accept them as partners.

Anyone familiar with the show will appreciate the attention to detail, especially in casting. Vince Vaughn is appropriately sleazy as the two-faced bad guy, while Juliette Lewis (as his girlfriend) has that terrific small screen appeal which made so many “Columbo” and “Murder She Wrote” enjoyable. Hiding underneath mountains of fur is Snoop Dog as everyone’s favorite informant Huggy Bear, while Fred Williamson hits just the right note (and loudly at that) as the annoyed police captain.

Bad mimes, dead ponies, cheerleader threesomes, perverted prisoners, and a cop so lazy he’d rather cast off a floating dead body than have to deal with the paperwork, “Starsky & Hutch” is everything you would expect from a television upgrade and more. Phillips goes for retro both in front of and behind the camera. The production design is perfect, while director of photography Barry Peterson and editor Leslie Jones keep things plain and simple.

When Starsky Met Hutch Nostalgic cop comedy goes “straight” to the source

STARSKY & HUTCH

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Snoop Dog, Fred Williamson, Carmen Electra. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated PG-13.

LARSEN RATING: $7.00



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