March 4
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‘Starsky and Hutch’ Revitalizes the TV Show Remake

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Bertolucci Returns to Form with ‘The Dreamers’

‘Starsky and Hutch’ Revitalizes the TV Show Remake
by Jeremy Mathews
  Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson would make good bobbleheads, especially in their ’70s attire from “Starsky and Hutch.”

“Starsky and Hutch”
Warner Bros.
Directed by Todd Phillips
Screenplay by Stevie Long, John O’Brien, Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong, based on the TV show created by William Blinn
Produced by William Blinn, Stuart Cornfeld, Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig and Alan Riche
Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Will Ferrell, Juliette Lewis, Chris Penn and Terry Crews
Rated PG-13

(out of four)

“Starsky and Hutch” proves that with the proper tone, set of actors, and a willingness to try whatever is necessary for a laugh, it is possible to make a good film based on a “classic” TV show. Despite the recent failed attempts at enlarging old small-screen hits like the feature-length music video “Charlie’s Angels” and the stilted, uninspired “I Spy,” the studios continue to churn them out, and now one has been done right.

The consistently improving director Todd Philllips (“Old School”) has found a way to make these adaptations work: Let two actors with great chemistry, Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, come up with their own versions of the main characters and work with an excellent supporting cast while the film toys with the show’s dated, nostalgic formula.

I have never seen an episode of the ’70s TV show about the friendship of two mismatched police partners in Bay City, Calif., but recognize the cop clichés such as being taken off the case and suspended from the force. There are also satires of musical detours and the swinging ’70s lifestyle. Although the plot mechanics are obvious, it doesn’t matter much because Wilson and Stiller are so charming together.

Wilson plays Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson, first seen robbing a bookie joint with a gang. When he and his gang find themselves surrounded by cops, he says he’s been working undercover. Stiller’s Starsky, however, operates by the book and gets in trouble for being too intense in his law enforcement. The film introduces him with a high-powered roof chase— for a thief who stole a purse with $7 in it.

Wilson and Stiller trade one-liners as their characters bond, buddy-cop style. Stiller plays the stiff man who doesn’t know how to have a good time, and Wilson plays the laid-back slacker with all the street connections.

One of the connections is the most invaluable member of the fully loaded supporting cast, Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear. Huggy is the sort of small-time crime leader who doesn’t do anything bad enough for the cops to arrest him as long as he gives them useful information. Dogg is perfect as the “urban informer” whose relaxed stoner persona creates the perfect undercover investigator— for a comedy, that is.

The other cast members include Vince Vaughn as Reese Feldman, the bad guy who operates a drug ring while maintaining a picture-perfect family life; Juliette Lewis as his bimbo mistress; Jason Bateman as Feldman’s second-in-command; and Will Ferrell as an imprisoned thug who, with an impressively serious face, offers Starsky and Hutch information in exchange for fulfilling his dragon-fetish cravings.

Phillips slyly makes fun of the many cop-movie fallbacks. He shoots Starsky’s opening roof-to-roof jump at angles that make it clear how likely injury would be from a jump to a roof four stories lower than the one you’re on. We see Stiller falling through the air, looking likely to break his leg, and then a closeup of a very smooth landing on his feet, as if he’d just hopped. Phillips has very quietly poked fun at the reliable action fallback.

Starsky’s famous red-and-white Ford Torino turns and flies into reverse and back with the smooth movement of a science-fiction vehicle. The funniest gag, reminiscent of Buster Keaton’s “Three Ages,” involves careful planning for a big jump off a ramp.

Like the plot, some scene setups follow standard mechanisms, but the comedy comes off so well that we don’t much notice. In one scene, the partners infiltrate Feldman’s daughter’s bat mitzvah as completely inept mimes. Starsky thinks he knows where the drugs are and starts a big commotion as he heads to the garage. Now based on the amount of time left in the film and the principles of comedy, it’s obvious that they aren’t going to find the drugs yet and that something else is behind the door. The item behind the door, however, is a completely inspired exercise in bad taste. The sequence ends with a flourish of grace instead of an obvious false alarm like a new car behind the door.

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