U.S. Release Date: March 5, 2004
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Todd Phillips
Writer: Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips
Producer: Gilbert Adler (executive), Scott Budnick (associate), Akiva Goldsman, Ben Stiller (executive)
Composer: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Jason Bateman, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell
Running Time: 1 hour and 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for drug content, sexual situations, partial nudity, language)

That '70s Cop Movie
by C.A. Wolski

Making a movie based on a TV show your target audience probably has never seen is risky. But the Ben Stiller-Owen Wilson vehicle Starsky & Hutch does a good job of not only playing into its 1970s cop show roots, but making the material fresh and fun. The result: probably the first real laugh-out-loud comedy of the year.

It's 1975 and Bay City USA is overrun with pimps, robbers, and drug lords. Enter police detectives David Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Owen Wilson). Both men fight crime in their own way. Starsky, the son of a respected policewoman, belongs to the Barney Fife-school of police work, i.e. get worked up and make loads of mistakes. Hutch, fed up with the low pay, works with local robbers, knocking over local bookie joints. Fed up with his two biggest problems, Captain Dobey (Fred Williamson) pairs the two up. The new partners quickly stumble upon a drug deal being engineered by slimy businessman and would-be crime kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) and the fun really begins in earnest.

Director/co-writer Todd Phillips (Old School) has done a great job making Starsky & Hutch feel like a failed 1970s TV pilot—his stated goal according to production notes—and Stiller and Wilson do a terrific job making this a reality. Unlike previous big screen remakes of small screen shows, there is no winking at the camera or making anachronistic references to the future. Starsky and Hutch are men of their time and they reflect the mores and attitudes of their era, which could have been fodder for all sorts of self-referential and lame jokes. Instead, when Hutch has the opportunity to participate in an orgy with his and Starsky's would-be girlfriends (Carmen Electra and Amy Smart), he does what any 1970s cop does—he sucks it up and goes with the flow.

This doesn't mean that Phillips doesn't have fun with the 70's cop genre. Throughout the movie Starsky and Hutch discharge thousands of rounds of pistol ammunition (never seeming to have to reload) and never hit a single person. Starsky's beloved yet conspicuous Torino is used to trail Vaughn in a key section of the movie, which the bad guy doesn't even notice following him. A wonderful scene with Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) being wired up for an undercover assignment with bulky 1970s electronics is played completely straight with all the overt comedy coming from the dialogue.

The plot of the movie is pretty standard fare, but even with this Phillips and company have fun. Early on Starsky begins playing the "here's my badge and gun" scene, which he stops mid-way when Dobey seems a bit too eager to take them. The drug case is old hat, but Vaughn as a would-be Jewish crime lord who has to juggle both his criminal syndicate and his daughter's bat mitzvah is new. The end of the case is suitably comic and, again, plays into the over-the-top police work of that era of television cop.

The best scenes are the ones that would have never been in a 1970s cop show, but feel right here. The first has the partners meeting with Big Earl (Will Ferrell in a cameo) in jail. The demands he makes of Starsky and Hutch for his cooperation and the comic pay off are worth the price of admission alone. A later scene with an arrest of a would-be assassin that goes wrong is equally hilarious. Not as funny, but at least comically surreal is the Feldman bat mitzvah scene. Again, the punch line, though not as funny as Ferrell's, is suitably amusing.

The cast is terrific with Stiller and Wilson playing well off each other as they always do. Wilson does a little too much of his typical schtick, but it works here. Vaughn is sufficiently oily as Feldman. Not as strong are the supporting performances by actresses Electra and Smart and Juliette Lewis as Feldman's ditzy mistress. None of the women have much to work with, but this reflects the 1970s cop genre when women were little more than either damsels in distress or eye candy. Snoop Dogg is great as Huggy Bear, playing his role as the hard-as-nails pimp straight, which almost eclipses Antonio Fargas' original. The real unsung hero on the acting front is Williamson as Dobey. He is the best cop captain we've seen in a long time. His frustration with his two problem-child cops is visceral, which allows him to deliver—only as the top straight men can—the best reaction lines in the movie.

There are some other nods to the original series at the end, and Phillips includes some outtakes and deleted scenes—including one with Farrell—at the end of the picture.

Starsky & Hutch is the first must-see comedy of the year. Unlike its heroes, it rarely misses its target.

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