Hutch Ado About Nothing

 

Maybe the most amazing thing about the big-screen version of Starsky & Hutch is how much smaller it feels than its predecessor, the William Blinn-created, Aaron Spelling-produced cop series that ran on ABC from 1975 to 1979. Everything about this cineplex variation feels rinky-dink, like some extended variety-show skit that became a network pilot and then accidentally morphed into a feature film. It lacks only a laugh track, commercial breaks and a musical guest. And never mind what the movie’s about. Director Todd Phillips, who remade Animal House and called it Old School, has put new clothes on a Naked Gun and shoved it behind the wheel of a familiar white-striped 1975 Ford Gran Torino. To top it off, he has cast the bong-hit generation’s Hope and Crosby: Ben Stiller as square, starchy Dave Starsky and Owen Wilson as happenin’, coke-snorting Ken Hutchinson. The pair never met a broad gag they couldn’t choke down.

The Starsky & Hutch fetishist, or at least the 36-year-old guy eagerly awaiting the first-season DVD boxed set with commentary from the original cast, will take issue with the movie’s reversal of roles. Hutch was the uptight stickler for rules, and Starsky was the hipster. But Phillips and the handful of credited writers have no interest in fidelity to the original show, aside from the names of a few characters. And why should they? No one fondly recalls old episodes of the show. This isn’t Star Trek.

All that’s recalled is the series’ faded groovy vibe — grown men in bulky turtlenecks and caterpillar sideburns sliding over car hoods and bickering like a married couple, stopping occasionally to chat with an expatriate from a blaxploitation triple bill. It’s what the Beastie Boys appropriated for their brilliant “Sabotage” video, which worked because it was a mere three minutes of fake mustaches. We’re expected to laugh as much at the fashion and hairstyles as at the dialogue and action, but the soundtrack of Barry Manilow songs and “Afternoon Delight” works harder to get a response than anyone actually in the film.

But this isn’t really a movie, just a succession of scenes — one begins because the last one had to end, well, sometime. It feels like old pals Stiller and Wilson are trying to amuse each other just to stay interested. They have their moments — Stiller dolled up in a leisure suit as a middle-aged version of his father, Owen Wilson singing David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up On Us, Baby” to a dewy-eyed Ben Stiller (didn’t see that coming) — but they’re anthills in the canyon. The small roles leave bigger impressions — Will Ferrell as the imprisoned fetishist who gets Starsky and Hutch to act out his wildest fantasies in exchange for information, Vince Vaughn (basically reprising his Old School character and adding a yarmulke, a mustache and a pistol) as the coke dealer planning a buy in the midst of his daughter’s bat mitzvah.

For the second time in as many years, Wilson stars in a feature-film remake of a buddy-cop TV show. He’ll make a fine Cagney to Stiller’s Lacey, should it come to that. He makes the most of his stoner’s inflection, which works when he’s playing a cop with a more-than-suggested drug habit. When Stiller tosses a one-liner at a corpse floating in the ocean, Wilson is aghast. “You just tough-talked a dead guy?” he says, and it’s less an inquiry than a slur coming through the smirk that never quite leaves his face. At least someone’s having fun.

Categories: Movies