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Starsky & Hutch   C-

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips, William Blinn, Stevie Long, John O'Brien, Scot Armstrong
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, Snoop Dogg, Fred Williamson, Amy Smart, Carmen Electra.

Review by Rob Vaux

That scraping sound you hear is postmodernism hitting the bottom of the barrel. Only a movement entering its death rattle could reach so far down the pop culture ladder with such trite, forgettable results. Starsky & Hutch, an unremarkable cop show from a decade of unremarkable cop shows, has now been remade as a big-time movie, leaving only its mediocrity intact. While the filmmakers clearly adore the source material, they don't have the first idea how to turn it into something worthwhile.

The original Starsky & Hutch had little to separate it from every other police drama on TV, save its nicely self-effacing leads (David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser) and a red-and-white Gran Torino that at least tugged at the foundations of cool. The remake takes the same general tactic, plugging Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller into the title roles and setting them loose on a formulaic comedy far beneath their talents. It's a promising pairing -- the two always work well together, and their parts match up with their respective comedic personae. Stiller's David Starsky is uptight and by the book, while Wilson's Ken Hutchinson is a laid-back flake. Sadly, the amount of thought put into the project never extends beyond that.

Instead, it's a series of questionable sketches centered on a typically evil drug lord (Vince Vaughn) and the cocaine he's preparing to sell. The jokes ostensibly serve as send-ups of standard cop show situations -- the partners go undercover as mimes and bikers, interrogate the local thugs, and trade barbs with their long-suffering captain (Fred Williamson), who's always two inches away from suspending them. If parody is the purpose, however, then it's sadly late to the dance. Police Squad! had the genre shot, stuffed, and mounted two decades ago, and Starsky & Hutch doesn't apply one-tenth of their zeal to the task. It shows too much affection for the TV show to really get nasty, but can't quite bring itself to admit as much openly. Instead, it rambles along somewhere in between, serving up mushy humor that never really coalesces, and flirting with genuine homage before backing off into semi-satirical rim shots.

Most of its hopes lie in its two leads. Stiller and Wilson have charm to spare, but without more to support them, their presence gets spread awfully thin. Even when they're spot-on -- as they were in Zoolander -- there's only so much that witty interplay can carry. When their shtick fails, the film resorts to simplistic '70s-bashing, poking weakly at the cultural absurdities of the time. "Look at their silly fashions! Their primitive technology! Their disco infernos! My God, how could we have ever lived that way?!" It's all too timid and too easily derived to leave much of a mark.

Some additional solace can be found in Vaughn, whose Sneering Ass routine finds very funny life as a third-rate villain. Director Todd Phillips clearly relishes the bad guy moments -- the energy perks up noticeably when Vaughn is on-screen -- and he slips in a quasi-amusing cameo for Will Farrell as well. Coupled with the leads, it's enough to at least hold our attention. Unfortunately, the other characters never measure up; witness Snoop Dogg working bravely with very little as pimp cum informant Huggy Bear, or Juliette Lewis, completely invisible as Vaughn's squeeze Kitty. Dogg admittedly has one of the best lines in the piece ("I know some people who know some people who rob some people") and his scene on the golf course with Vaughn is a riot, but there was so much more to be had there than we see. Huggy finally feels more like he's warming up for Part II than playing any significant role now.

The remainder of the film is equally perfunctory, seemingly existing only because it's too early to do another Charlie's Angels sequel. Good satire requires boldness and bravery, while a good remake needs to play its source straight. Starsky & Hutch is neither, clinging to the fence in a desperate attempt to have its cake and eat it too. With a few more laughs, it make have been forgivable, but too many funny people are doing far too little to hide the empty space. If you're going to exhume a body, you need to make more of an effort to bring it to life. Starsky & Hutch simply can't be bothered.

Review published 03.05.2004.

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