Identity Crisis

It's hard to tell whether 'Starsky & Hutch' is a period piece or a spoof

Starsky & Hutch is one confused movie. Based on the '70s TV show that wasn't all that great to begin with, the film feels like its stars and its director showed up with different movies in mind. While it's occasionally funny, its tone is all over the place, resulting in a film that feels like a potentially decent joke that is told the wrong way.

Todd Phillips, director of the funny Road Trip and Old School, seems to be making a period piece, dressing up his actors in pimp clothes and splashing '70s music on the soundtrack. As for the raunchy humor that made his first two films so much fun, it's nowhere in sight, because he's going for that user-friendly PG-13 rating. If he was setting out to make a straight comedy, he failed, because the laughs are few and far between.

Ben Stiller, starring as Starsky (originated by Paul Michael Glaser, who has a cameo in the film), seems to think the movie is a spoof. All of his character's actions are played for their comic worth rather than period realism. One glimpse of his eyes bugging out and exaggerated physical comedy in the opening sequence shows that Stiller is on the job for fun and is not taking things seriously. It happens to be the Stiller portion of the film that works the most, a funny riff that has little respect for the source material.

Owen Wilson as Hutch (David Soul on TV, who also has a cameo) seems to be on hand to make out with co-stars Carmen Electra and Amy Smart at the same time. A tired-looking, far-too-laid-back waste of space this time out, Wilson seems to be taking roles for the girls and the glory. He's got Billy Baldwin's Disease, the major symptom being the participation in films that only have super hot co-stars. The excitement of performance that fueled early Wilson work like Bottle Rocket and The Minus Man has drained out of him. He's simply acting by numbers. This continues a slump that includes Shanghai Knights and The Big Bounce.

Vince Vaughn and Snoop Dogg, as a drug kingpin and the infamous Huggy Bear, seem to be on the director's period-piece wavelength, and their performances do contain some laughs. As Huggy Bear, Dogg gets some chuckles, especially when he poses as a caddie and wears a wire, which is very bulky due to ancient '70s technology. Vaughn was excellent in Phillip's Old School, and he's OK here, although he never gets the chance to really relish the role of arch villain.

Despite the inconsistencies, there are some standout moments. Will Ferrell makes a hilarious cameo as a prison inmate battling infatuations with dragons and male bellybuttons. Wilson crooning the David Soul classic "Don't Give Up on Us, Baby" is an inspired moment, as is Starsky's extreme intimidation tactics while questioning a prisoner.

Not so funny is the film's insistence upon recycling jokes that were tired long before the original TV show debuted in '75. Starsky & Hutch marks the second time in two weeks (after Eurotrip) that a big joke is based upon mime humor. Starsky and Hutch, dressed as mimes, crash a bat mitzvah, and hilarity does not ensue. This also looks to be one of two films this year (the other being the upcoming Envy) where Stiller kills a horse. Horse homicide was funny in Animal House, but the gag has seen its day.

As for other moments of supreme unoriginality, the whole car jumping from a dock to a boat-at-sea shtick is stolen from 2 Fast, 2 Furious. Stealing material from 2 Fast, 2 Furious ... not encouraging.

While Mel Gibson's powerful and fascinating The Passion of the Christ gets skewered by many major critics, the mediocre Starsky & Hutch is getting some nice advance buzz. This, according to the yet unpublished Bob Grimm's List of Perplexing Realities, could be a sign of the apocalypse.

Stiller and Ferrell provide enough laughter to establish Starsky & Hutch as a movie that is better than truly bad. Considering the talent involved, that's a pretty big failure. Director Phillips is currently spearheading the production of The Six Million Dollar Man, starring Jim Carrey. No more television knockoffs, please!

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