The latest 1970s television show to be turned into a feature film, "Starsky & Hutch" attempts to recreate the loose, fun, jokey vibe of 2000's "Charlie's Angels
." Under the helm of uneven director Todd Phillips (2002's very bad "Old School
"), however, this update lacks the filmmaking ingenuity, style, energy, and freshness that director McG brought to that surprise breakout hit. "Starsky & Hutch" comes off as a pale imitation, rarely funny and never involving, whose sole charm comes from the likable team-up of Ben Stiller (2004's "Along Came Polly
") and Owen Wilson (2004's "The Big Bounce
Retaining the '70s era and setting of Bay City, "Starsky & Hutch" takes its dramatic, albeit cheesy, source material and turns it into a sort of spoof of generic police shows. The narrative, which takes the barest of plots to simply hang a string of vignettes upon, concerns new cop partners Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Hutch (Owen Wilson) as they investigate a body found floating in the bay. Starsky and Hutch are the unlikeliest of pairsStarsky with his permed hairdo and over-the-top, uptight professionalism, and Hutch a real smooth operator and ladies' manbut they soon form a tight friendship. Their investigative work ultimately leads them to Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), a crooked family man whom they believe is planning a drug deal with a new odorless cocaine he has created. And in their spare time, Starsky and Hutch find themselves romancing luscious cheerleaders Holly (Carmen Electra) and Staci (Amy Smart).
In recent interviews, writer-director Todd Phillips has openly spoke about his falling-out with Dreamworks Pictures, the distributor of his previous two films. Apparently, he is upset because they were advertising the current "Eurotrip
" to seem as if he, who made 2000's similar "Road Trip
," was involved in its production. Instead of getting angry over a movie he has not seen, Phillips might be wise to view "Eurotrip
" and take some notes on how to make a genuinely funny film. If anything, it is certainly more successful as a comedy (not to mention far wittier) than "Old School
" or "Starsky & Hutch" are. This latest project proves once again that Phillips lacks the creative flourishes that set apart promising filmmakers from the hack ones. And he also has no idea how to tell a complete story and keep the pacing fast and tight. Instead of involving his viewers in the story and characters, he is content to play out half-witted skits free of urgency and cohesion.
Not to beat a dying horse, but Todd Phillips also has a way of gathering together a great cast and then wasting almost all of their talents to an embarrassing degree. He gives his recurring supporting players, filled out by such fine actors as Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, and Amy Smart (the former two were in "Old School
," the latter in "Road Trip
"), nothing meaty to do, no real character to play, and basically flushes their proven comic abilities down the toilet. And in the case of consistently underused Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis, who plays Reese's flighty, upbeat mistress, Kitty, and garners the bulk of laughs to be found in the film, Phillips does not even respect her enough to give closure to her character. A throwaway, blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit concerning Kitty during the end credits simply does not satisfy. It's the lazy way out, and it is a path Phillips more often than not takes.
With these things said, the saviors of "Starsky & Hutch" are Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, delightful in the lead roles and comfortable in playing off of each other. Stiller adeptly invokes Starsky with an earnest, eager-to-please demeanor that belies his own unrecognized nerdiness. He is especially good in a scene in which he unknowingly ingests cocaine and starts tripping from the drug. Wilson is just as good, giving his Hutch a laid-back suaveness that he either doesn't know he has, or just coolly takes in stride. Wilson's best moment is played off of the invaluable Will Ferrell (2003's "Elf
"), in a cameo as a jail inmate with weird fetishes involving dragons and bellybuttons. Snoop Dogg (2001's "The Wash
"), who has never convinced me as an actor, also surprises with his likable character of Huggy, a police informant who apparently pimps on the side.
For a while, "Starsky & Hutch" diverts the viewer's attention with the easy rapport of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and a happening soundtrack of classic and not-so-classic '70s tunes. Hope for a worthwhile 97 minutes soon evaporates, however, as it becomes apparent director Todd Phillips and co-screenwriters John O'Brien and Scot Armstrong have failed to craft solid, memorable material worthy of his actors. The majority of the humor falls flat, the pacing holds no true momentum, and passing entertainment value turns to frustration before the first hour is up. By all accounts and standards, "Starsky & Hutch" is just a forgettable retread of a TV show most people have long since forgotten about. Todd Phillips could afford to learn a thing or two from "Charlie's Angels
" director McG. He could even benefit from rookie "Eurotrip
" filmmaker Jeff Schaffer.