Archive for Thursday, March 4, 2004

Starsky & Hutch’ cast can’t bail out remake

** (PG-13)

March 4, 2004

Let's take a semi-revered TV cop series from the 1970s and update it
with a modern twist. It worked for "Charlie's Angels" and "S.W.A.T."
and "The Mod Squad" and ... hey, those movies weren't very good, were
they?

Yes, but "Starsky & Hutch" will star Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in
the roles that turned David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser into pop
culture footnotes. Stiller can play Starsky as a simmering misfit
with "short guy syndrome" while Wilson renders Hutch as a
smooth-talking hedonist with criminal leanings.

Then, unlike those other television remakes, we'll actually set the
show in the decade that spawned it. That way just the sight of the
feathered hair, the garish clothes and the abnormally large
electronics products will be amusing by themselves.

Next, let's cast thug-life rapper Snoop Dogg as pimp informant Huggy
Bear. Snoop won't even have to deal with the wardrobe department; he
can wear what he normally has on.

Throw in other can't-miss funnymen such as Vince Vaughn portraying
the smug villain and Will Ferrell as his wacko lackey, and this has
all the makings of a cult classic.

Except ...

Somewhere between conception and production, these ideas BECAME the movie, because that's all "Starsky & Hutch" really has going for it.

Individual scenes in this big-screen adaptation are not without their
charms, but the film doesn't work as a unified comedic entity. It's a
sloppy batch of seen-it-before setups and spotty punchlines that
never settles on whether to be a parody or an homage.

What a disappointment for Stiller and Wilson, whose sixth
collaboration together (previous ones include "Meet the Parents" and
"Zoolander") has resulted in one of their weakest pairings. It's
lucky the two stars generate so much natural chemistry, because it
allows them to make even the most ill-conceived sequences watchable.

For as many gags as are thrown at the screen, it's surprising how few
stick. Among the highlights is a scene at a biker bar where the
detectives' tough-guy posturing is wildly unnecessary. This is one of
the few moments when the conversation takes on a sharp,
improvisational feel. Stiller and Wilson's manic arguments about the
specifics of language recall some of Monty Python's classic sketches.

And the uncredited Ferrell (covering his curly pate with a Ruth
Buzzi-style hair net) has a juicy bit as a dragon-obsessed prisoner
whose entire role takes place behind Plexiglas. The movie could use
more of his welcome weirdness.

Less welcome is writer-director Todd Phillips, who previously worked
with much of this gang in last year's "Old School." That movie had
some sidesplitting moments before it turned into a snoozer during its
third act.

Rather than improving with experience, Phillips has regressed back to
the skills he displayed while making 2000's "Road Trip" - which were
little to none. His latest flick is shot and paced no better than its
network source material. The only thing more flat than the film's
visual style is Snoop Dogg's performance. (The artist's delivery
teeters between subtle and comatose.)

Phillips consistently blows primo opportunities. A "Disco Vietnam"
dance-off between Stiller and cult musician Har Mar Superstar is much
funnier on paper than in execution.

Ditto for the idea of having the same vulgar band that performs at
the wedding reception in "Old School" show up here for a bat mitzvah.
If only they actually said or did something humorous this time around.

At the beginning of the picture, Stiller narrates, "There's no such
thing as a petty crime."

Can't think of a better phrase to describe the act of squandering
this much talent in a film so inconsequential.

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