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March 9, 2004

Starsky and Hutch battle the evil Reese Feldman, bad '70s fashion

I'm sure there will come a time when today's popular sitcoms are adapted into full-length movies. By that time, the majority of the humor will come from the chemistry of the cast, and connections to the old TV show will be unnecessary. And you know what? If that movie is as funny as Starsky & Hutch, I won't care.

Starsky & Hutch is the latest film by director Todd Phillips, whose previous two movies, Old School and Road Trip, should give you a pretty good idea of what you're getting into. The star power of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Snoop Dogg makes this movie more accessible, but really it's the same brand of humor. If, over the past year, you found yourself screaming "You're my boy, Blue!" or singing "Dust in the Wind" off-key, this is your movie. If not, I think The Passion of the Christ is still playing, but I'm waiting for the alternate ending in which Jesus lives.

But I digress. Starsky & Hutch is best described in three words: The fucking '70s. The cars, the pimps, the clothes, the music, and everything else exuding coolness is brought to life as an erratic backdrop for comedy. David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is a wound-up cop with a billowing afro who pursues his police work with such fierce alacrity that he rarely does anything right. Ken Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is the fun-loving hippie, who spends about as much time being a criminal as he does being a cop. They're the same characters Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson always play, but their chemistry is what matters most.

As fate would have it, Starsky and Hutch are partnered together to solve a case that seems modeled after the ending of Road Trip, with the substitution of coke for weed. The evil Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) and his posse of equally evil—but not quite as fast-talking—goons have produced a form of cocaine that cannot be detected by police dogs. Phillips has a certain fascination with creating drugs that cannot be detected by the government; and quite frankly, I couldn't be happier. (Now, this is the kind of science we need.)

Starsky and Hutch get assistance from Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), a smooth-talking, opulent pimp, and Big Earl (Will Ferrell), an ex-con who has homoerotic fantasies about dragons. Yeah, that's right. Dragons. Only Will Ferrell could inject the right amount of creepiness to lines like, "What are you wearing? Oh, that's gorgeous!" And who better to play a pimp than Snoop? Snoop has so much charisma that he's been a star player in hip-hop for the past ten years, despite only having one album (Doggystyle) that is exceptionally good. The stars of the movie are clearly Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, but Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell provide more than welcome support.

The result of all this is an entertaining diversion, which is harder to pull off than you'd think. Some action-comedies, such as I Spy, had entertainment potential but spent so much time trying to pull off serious action that they became boring as hell. Starsky & Hutch manages to avoid this by using violent action in some of its best gags. It inflicts damage on its characters and their belongings with such gleeful irrelevance that it's impossible not to crack a smile: there's knife fu, pony fu, iguana fu, 1974 Ford Torino fu, ménage a trois fu, coked-up disco-dancing Ben Stiller fu, and more.

Comedy is such an incredibly subjective medium that it can be hard to tell what's good or not. Some people just don't get the humor behind Todd Phillips' movies. His films usually have a handful of stand-out gags bolstered by more subtly humorous scenes that grow funnier in retrospect (and on repeated viewings). Starsky & Hutch has the same structure—but isn't nearly as quotable—as Zoolander or Old School. Moreover, the freshness of seeing Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson work together has been pretty dulled by their previous work. Anyway, Starsky & Hutch worked as a $5 diversion for me, but it might not do the same for you.

What's interesting is that Phillips' next movie is also a remake; this time he'll take on The Six Million Dollar Man, which will star Jim Carrey. Sounds interesting, but you know what these filmmakers should really do? They should start making movies based on sitcoms that notoriously sucked. Thirty years from now, I would love to see a generation of filmmakers try to transform something mind-numbing like The King of Queens or Yes, Dear into entertaining film. I'd pay to see that—in fact, I wouldn't even have to think twice.