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Starsky & Hutch

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
97 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Todd Phillips. Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Calvin 'Snoop Dogg' Dogg, Fred Williamson, Vince Vaughn.

I can't exactly recommend Starsky & Hutch, a big-screen remake of the '70s TV-cop show, but I can't claim not to have laughed from time to time, either. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson bring their well-rehearsed rapport of friction to bear on a suitably silly premise; in doing so, they reflect the weird balance of Todd Phillips's film. The humor springs from a chafing of the self-serious (Stiller's high-strung Starsky) and the irrepressibly irreverent (Wilson's Hutch). If there's genuine affection in Phillips rolling out the iconic red and white Ford Gran Torino and laying down plenty of wah-wah-pedal guitar licks, it's equally apparent that the agenda is to poke fun at the frozen-in-time heroes once played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul. Stiller's straight-faced warning "In Bay City, when you cross the line, your nuts are mine" induces hilarity and not a bit of awe.

Starsky & Hutch will probably have a rather short shelf-life, but it'll do for a matinee or a rental. The screenplay by John O'Brien, Todd Phillips, and Scot Armstrong imagines the initial pairing of the by-the-book Starsky with, as tailored to Wilson, the on-the-take Hutch (the script's best running gag allows ridiculous side conversations to derail the duo's lines of questioning). While chasing Vince Vaughn's drug-dealing bad guy, each teaches the other a little something. They learn to respect and even, uh, love each other (to paraphrase TV-hero Adam West, these quickly inseparable guys seem to feel strange stirrings in their gun holsters).

Though the stars manage enough line-drives to load the bases (Stiller's bad-cop interrogation moves, a bat mitzvah meltdown involving two undercover mimes, and an outrageous punchline to a Will Ferrell cameo), too many scenes fall flat, like most of the very funny Vaughn's scenes (there's a criminal letdown) and the one which finds the Bay City rollers taking Easy Rider disguises into a biker bar. Phillips increases his mileage with stylistic goofs--musical montages, purposefully pompous slo-mo, and editing assists to unlikely stunts--and a supporting cast including Fred Williamson as the police chief, Juliette Lewis as Vaughn's moll, Jason Bateman as a corrupt lawyer, and Snoop Dogg as police informant Huggy Bear.

It all starts, beautifully, with Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" and ends with a "gotcha" car stunt; throw a cameo by Glaser and Soul into the mix, and this crypto-love story gets even weirder. One wonders if fans of the series will lose their lunch or laugh along. After all, The Brady Bunch Movie affectionately parodied a bad sitcom, while it's conceivable that Starsky & Hutch fans take "their" show a bit more seriously. On the other hand, nothing could be more offensive than an out-and-out bad movie, and this one's far better than Wilson's stinky I Spy or the D.O.A. The Mod Squad. Come to think of it, crank up the Barry Manilow while I count my blessings.

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