Oh, what could have been! The setup was perfect and ready for a
knockout punch line. Just the idea of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson
in the seemingly custom-tailored roles of “Starsky &
Hutch” brought on many giddy chuckles. But the joke is an old
one, hindered by its own repetitiveness, and the punch line falls
flat.

Ryan Nowak
Sweating to the oldies. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Sadly, director Todd Phillips’s (“Old School”)
latest bit of shenanigans, though at times funny, proves only one
thing: The well of shtick that made Stiller and Wilson so endearing
to audiences has been drawn from a bit too often. The recycled
comedic interplay between the duo is less the refreshing dose of
dry wit than a poor attempt at a Letterman impersonation, using the
same joke again and again.

However, thanks to Phillips and his creative team, Stiller as
David Starsky and Wilson as Ken Hutchinson still have a bit of
spark left over, and the supporting cast somewhat revitalizes the
feature version of the hipster, disco-era cop show.

Starsky is your average anal-retentive cop. The son of one of
Bay City’s most cherished blues, he is the enemy of any perp.
After chasing a purse snatcher halfway across town, and discharging
a semi-automatic en route, Starsky’s punishment is to be
teamed up with Hutch, a lackadaisical, all-nonsense,
work-the-system cop.

As they begin to grow on each other, the rumblings of a
record-breaking drug deal surface, courtesy of Hutch’s
informant Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg). Rampaging throughout town, they
come across a new, untraceable and unscented brand of cocaine, and
standing at the center of their investigation is business mogul
Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). The requisite chases and explosions
of “Starsky & Hutch” ensue.

Where the plot is overly formulaic, the cameos, along with Snoop
and Vaughn, have all the quirkiness audiences have come to expect
from Stiller and Wilson. Vaughn and Phillips accompany each other
perfectly, as their styles mesh once again after Vaughn’s
comedic resurgence in “Old School.” Snoop’s
character is the most enjoyable, with an off beat style and suave
intelligence that are a welcome retreat from the overarching
comedic atmosphere.

Other notable bit players include the always impressive Will
Ferrell, Carmen Electra, Amy Smart, Chris Penn, Juliette Lewis and
Jason Bateman, with David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser (the
original Hutch and Starsky) providing a special little passing of
the torch. Yet, what most redeems “Starsky & Hutch”
are the set pieces, especially the signature 1974 Ford Torino with
racing stripes.

Usually, in this type of film where the plot is underdeveloped
and the subplots riddled with holes, the laugh-out-loud slapstick
and chuckle-worthy satire make the trite story forgivable. But this
humor just doesn’t hit when it should. Most of the 97 minutes
are spent waiting for that punch-line that never comes.
Unfortunately, the remake that once seemed so promising can’t
fall back on the laurels of its stars, and that makes all the
difference.

Rating: Two out of five stars.

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