Starsky and Hutch

starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller

3 1/2 stars

review by Stephen Notley

I'm happy to say I'm a little too young to really remember Starsky & Hutch on TV; I'm guessing many of my readers are the same. So, carrying only the fuzziest ideas of what Starsky & Hutch is supposed to be into the new S&H movie, what do we find? As it turns out, we find a nice, pleasant, amusing little buddy-cop comedy --no great shakes, no real moments of brilliance, but consistent amusement throughout.

To our jaded 21st-century eyes the TV show looks faintly ridiculous, but hard as it is to imagine at the time it was considered hard and edgy, and even came under fire from parents' groups for its gritty violence. Thankfully the filmmakers don't spend a lot of time goofing on the era a la Austin Powers, choosing instead to play it fairly straight.

Owen Wilson is Hutch and Ben Stiller is Starsky. That means Owen Wilson is the relaxed easygoing loosey-goosey-with-the-rules cop, while Ben Stiller is the high-strung, rule-following by-the-book cop.

Owen Wilson isn't stretching with his Hutch, but then, he doesn't have to. He's Owen Wilson and he does it better than anyone, the same character every movie, the laconic good guy chilling people out. He's fun to have around, a comfortable presence in any film, and he eases it up in amusing style here.

Meanwhile Stiller is the nervous energy of the movie, incongruously pushy and badass as Starsky. It's kinda like Zoolander; Ben Stiller is emphatically not a super-beautiful model, so the fun comes from watching him clunk around and bang up against the edges of a character he doesn't fit. The first shot we get of Starsky is Stiller puffing breathlessly across a rooftop, face buggy-eyed and popping, a dude struggling to be a tough guy and who is somehow accepted in the world of the movie *as* a tough guy even though he's Ben Stiller.

Wilson and Stiller are funny together. Not hilarious, not side-splitting, but there are plenty of chuckles. And while the movie doesn't have the reinvented-for-the-screen brilliance of, say, Charlie's Angels, it's also pretty light on the gratingly obvious making-fun-of-the-70s gaggery one would normally expect.

The laughs are light character-based stuff, as a rule. Starsky has a pretty good relationship with his car, a smoking hot red-and-white roadster that belches smoke from its tires whenever it moves. Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear is lanky and slick as the street-level informant. Vince Vaughn is suitably an asshole as the drug-dealing bad guy. Eventually Will Ferrell appears and you think, "I bet this is gonna be pretty good," and you're right.

There are a couple of amusing comedy set pieces, the best of which is when Stiller mistakes artificial-sweetener-flavored-cocaine for artificial sweetener and goes out for a artificial-sweetener-flavored-cocaine-fueled twitchy, jerking, disco-battling night on the town. And a horse gets it, which is always good to see. And there's even a light-touched passing of the torch between Starskys & Hutches Marks I & II as the stars of the TV series pop in at the end.

Starsky & Hutch comes from the gentlemen who brought us Old School, and it hits on pretty much the same level. S&H doesn't have the memorable pathos of Ferrell's character in Old School, but it's got mild laughs and some hot chicks. It's a good enough time out at the movies, and then it'll vanish from your mind as you wait for the bus to go home.

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