[Screen It]

(2004) (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A mismatched cop duo tries to bring down a drug trafficker who's developed a new form of undetectable cocaine.
It's 1970s era Bay City, California and David Starsky (BEN STILLER) is an uptight cop whose by the books attitude has resulted in him going through twelve partners in just four years. Ken Hutchinson (OWEN WILSON) is a much more laidback cop who's adopted the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy and thus has been committing various crimes under the guise of working undercover.

They couldn't be more different, but police Captain Doby (FRED WILLIAMSON) pairs the two together and they immediately clash, much to the delight of other cops such as Manetti (CHRIS PENN) who can't stand Starsky and his ways.

When the two discover a body that's washed up on the shore, their investigation initially leads them to local wealthy businessman Reese Feldman (VINCE VAUGHN). Little do they know that he and his assistant, Kevin (JASON BATEMAN), have developed a new form of cocaine that's undetectable to drug sniffing dogs or even human taste.

Powerful street informant Huggy Bear (SNOOP DOGG), however, has heard of it and the two cops begin to think Reese is involved. Yet, they can't pin anything on him or his girlfriend, Kitty (JULIETTE LEWIS). Accordingly, they start interviewing witnesses and informants such as the imprisoned Big Earl (WILL FARRELL) and attractive cheerleaders Holly (AMY SMART) and Staci (CARMEN ELECTRA). With their unorthodox ways getting them in trouble with their captain, the two cops try to crack the case.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
If you've ever been to a social gathering, it's likely you've witnessed the sort of person who's both literally and figuratively late to the party. They're the kind who are loud and boisterous and rattle off a barrage of jokes, many of which are dated, not particularly novel and/or miss as often as they hit.

Yet, there's just something about the person's personality and demeanor that not only makes them bearable but also somewhat entertaining at times. With such thoughts in mind, you shouldn't feel the need to avoid comedic actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson's gazillionth outing together, "Starsky & Hutch."

Like a party host with a look of wonderment on their face over a guest's choice of social attire, some of you may be wondering how this is possible considering the source material. The original "Starsky & Hutch" was a standard-issue, buddy cop drama that debuted in 1975, ran for 4 years on ABC, and starred Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul in the title roles. Although there were some comical and/or amusing moments, the TV show was by no means a comedy.

Writer/director Todd Phillips ("Old School," "Road Trip") and fellow scribes Scot Armstrong (ditto) and John O'Brien ("Cradle 2 the Grave"), however, have opted to head down that genre path with their big screen adaptation of the series.

Rather than poking some contemporary fun at the characters, storylines and genre format as did the two "Brady Bunch" movies in regards to their small-screen predecessors, the filmmakers here have set their story "back in the day," but still have some fun with the period's conventions, clothing choices and the like. The result isn't as wickedly yet lovingly hilarious as those "Brady Bunch" flicks, but there are enough laughs -- both big and small -- to be had that the film turns out to better than many will be expecting.

And that's somewhat remarkable considering that the movie -- like the aforementioned party guest -- arrives late to the event. Many films and even an entire TV sitcom ("That '70s Show") have poked fun at the decade of disco, bell bottoms and Afros. Accordingly, one is likely to worry that the film either won't have enough ammo or will retread already familiar comedy grounds.

While it does -- in terms of both the era and general comedy offerings -- there's just something about the slightly clever but somewhat air-headed approach that makes it all a bit easier to swallow or at least tolerate. Thus, you might not mind when there's the disco dance-off or when we see the accidental ingestion and then reaction to narcotics.

Then there's the standard bit featuring the attractive and shapely woman stripping in front of tongue-tied and bug-eyed men or the apparently well-educated or at least smart and proper talking thugs who can discuss Luxemburg and define terrariums while aiming their guns at others.

For me, part of the fun was in the small details that many of today's younger viewers might not get. Sure, there's the obvious "Easy Rider" spoof, but one of my biggest chuckles came from Wilson singing a little ditty that just so happened to have originally been done by his character's TV predecessor. Speaking of which, Glaser and Soul make the obligatory cameo appearance, but many teens and twenty-somethings at our screening had no idea who they were and thus the joke was lost on them.

Fans of the usual comedy stylings of Stiller ("Along Came Polly," "Duplex") and Wilson ("The Big Bounce," "Shanghai Knights") will be in hog heaven as the two go through their usual bits of verbal and physical humor (with the former being uptight and easily annoyed, the latter doing the laidback surfer dude bit). Just like the potentially boorish party joke teller, they manage to make their characters just charming enough that you don't mind the repetitiveness of them and/or their material.

Wisely or not (depending on your tolerance for all of that), the filmmakers have fashioned a very loose, throwaway script that allows them to go from one gag to the next with only a threadbare story to connect all of them. That occasionally gives the film something of a skit feel ("Watch as Wilson and Stiller act like mimes," "See the two in goofy costumes," etc.), but since this is obviously a "dumb" comedy, it's not as bad as it might seem.

For what it's worth, Vince Vaughn ("Old School," "The Cell") appears as the obligatory villain who's concocted a different sort of cocaine (with the joke being that it's called "new coke"), but isn't given enough funny material to make the character as much fun as he could and should have been. Snoop Dogg ("Bones," "The Wash") has some funny moments as the big screen version of Huggy Bear, but doesn't get enough screen time which also holds true for Juliette Lewis ("Cold Creek Manor," "The Other Sister") who's wasted as Vaughn's girlfriend.

Fred Williamson ("Whatever it Takes," "From Dusk Till Dawn") plays the standard-issue, loud and annoyed police captain from the old TV era (but without any big laughs), while Amy Smart ("Rat Race," "Road Trip") and Carmen Electra ("My Boss's Daughter," "Get Over It") appear as eye candy cheerleaders. Then there's Will Ferrell ("Elf," "Old School") who has an extended cameo bit as a prison inmate with, shock of all shocks, gay tendencies.

Before anyone gets the idea that I'm reaping high praise on the film, you should note that this is the epitome of a hit and miss affair where just as many jokes and related material fail as succeed. And those that do the latter usually aren't of the big belly laugh variety.

It's just that enough do manage to work, the dialogue is often amusing and sometimes quite funny, and the overall demeanor and approach are lighthearted enough to make the offering moderately entertaining. Nothing great but a decent and fairly enjoyable offering, "Starsky & Hutch" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 1, 2004 / Posted March 5, 2004

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