Starsky & Hutch

tmb_1810_480I didn’t mind seeing Starsky & Hutch; it’s amiable enough, and there are a couple of genuinely hilarious moments. But guys as smart and witty as Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are just wasting themselves on ’70s TV nostalgia. This isn’t a gloriously over-the-top update, like the Charlie’s Angels movies; it was made, we’re told, as if it had been a funnier, unused pilot for the actual TV series, and as if the stars were replaced by David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. As an excuse to get Stiller and Wilson together again, though, it passes muster. Barely.

My memories of the show are very dim, so I can’t say for sure whether the movie’s characterizations — David Starsky (Stiller) as an anal-retentive stickler for the rules, Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Wilson) as a laid-back slacker who isn’t above swiping pocket money from a corpse — are true to the source. It’s certain, though, that Wilson and particularly Stiller are cast utterly to type here; they’re essentially playing templates of themselves. If you like Stiller’s neurotic control-freak shtick (to which he brought some depth and pathos in The Royal Tenenbaums) and Wilson’s drawling aw-shucks routine (ditto),Starsky & Hutch gives you that. But, having seen Stiller and Wilson stretch in little-seen dramas (Permanent Midnight and The Minus Man, respectively), I know they’re slumming here.

Which isn’t a huge sin, considering the pleasantly mediocre comedy they’re in. Directed by Todd Phillips, who made the instant-cult raunch comedies Road Trip and Old School, the film sometimes seems on the verge of outgrowing its PG-13 rating; the moments people will talk about for weeks are in short supply here, though I laughed heartily at the outcome of a meeting between the cops and an imprisoned freak played by Will Ferrell, and there’s some classic awestruck expressions on Stiller and especially Wilson in the presence of a blithely naked college cheerleader. The guys also get it on with two other randy cheerleaders (Carmen Electra and Amy Smart), who also get it on with each other, and Starsky and Hutch themselves have enough homoerotic moments to fuel reams of fangirl slash fiction (if these guys have fangirls).

The official villain is Vince Vaughn, doing his standard yeah-whatever routine as a drug dealer who’s figured out how to make cocaine that’s safe from drug-sniffing dogs. He never gets a real showcase scene, though, and Juliette Lewis is sadly wasted as his bubbly girlfriend (while Molly Sims, as his wife, is hardly in the movie). At his daughter’s bat mitzvah, Vaughn launches into a cringe-inducing ballad, but is interrupted by Starsky and Hutch; the scene would’ve been funnier if he’d been allowed to continue. What follows, as his daughter gets a double surprise for her birthday, might’ve been good if the trailer hadn’t spoiled it.

Unlike Charlie’s Angels, which came out of Drew Barrymore’s desire to do a megabucks grrl-power adventure that teenage girls could enjoy, Starsky & Hutch really has no reason for being other than smirking at the ’70s and at the TV show. (I’ve gotten this far without mentioning Snoop Dogg as the new Huggy Bear; that’s because he doesn’t bring anything fresh. Two of Huggy’s gunmen, swapping arcane bits of data about Luxembourg, get more laughs.) I shudder to think what the movie would’ve been like without Stiller and Wilson. At the end, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser are schlepped out for a cameo, looking much the worse for wear (Soul is nearly unrecognizable), and the moment feels uncomfortably as if the movie is laughing at them. At the very least, contrasting the two old-timers, who never quite made it after the show ended (Glaser has directed some films, the most memorable being The Running Man, which isn’t saying much), with the young, handsome, far more successful Stiller and Wilson has a whiff of arrogance, as if the entirety of the TV series were a rough draft for Stiller and Wilson’s goof. Starsky & Hutch was the career peak for Soul and Glaser; it won’t be for Stiller and Wilson, one hopes.

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