That ‘70s low

Starsky & Hutch

“How many times do I have to tell you boys? Horizontal stripes add at least 15 pounds.”

“How many times do I have to tell you boys? Horizontal stripes add at least 15 pounds.”

Rated 2.0

Starsky & Hutch is one confused movie. Based on the ‘70s TV show that wasn’t all that great to begin with, the film feels like its stars and director showed up with different movies in mind. While it’s occasionally funny, the tone is all over the place, resulting in a film that feels like a potentially decent joke told the wrong way.

Todd Phillips, director of the funny Road Trip and Old School, appears to be making a period piece, dressing up his actors in pimp clothes and splashing ‘70s music on the soundtrack. As for the raunchy humor that made his first two films so much fun, it’s nowhere in sight because he’s going for that user-friendly PG-13 rating. If he was setting out to make a straight comedy, he has failed because the laughs are few and far between.

Ben Stiller, starring as Starsky (originated by Paul Michael Glaser on TV), seems to think the movie is a spoof. All his character’s actions are played for their comic worth, rather than period realism. One glimpse of his eyes bugging out, exaggerated physical comedy in the opening sequence, shows that Stiller is on the job for fun and not taking things too seriously. It happens to be the Stiller portion of the film that works the best, a funny riff that has little respect for the source material.

Owen Wilson as Hutch (David Soul on TV) seems to be on hand to make out with costars Carmen Electra and Amy Smart at the same time. A tired-looking, far too laidback waste of space this time out, Wilson gives the impression he took the role for the girls and the glory. He’s got Billy Baldwin’s Disease, the major symptom being the participation in films that only have super hot costars. The excitement of performance that fueled early Wilson work like Bottle Rocket and The Minus Man has drained out of him. He’s simply acting by numbers. This continues a slump that includes Shanghai Knights and The Big Bounce.

Vince Vaughn and Snoop Dogg, as a drug kingpin and the infamous Huggy Bear, appear to be on the director’s period-piece wavelength, and their performances do contain laughs. As Huggy Bear, Dogg gets some chuckles, especially when he poses as a caddie and wears a wire, which is very bulky due to ancient ‘70s technology. Vaughn was excellent in Phillip’s Old School, and he’s OK here, although he never gets the chance to really relish the role of arch villain.

Despite the inconsistencies, there are some standout moments. Will Ferrell makes a hilarious cameo as a prison inmate battling infatuations with dragons and male bellybuttons. Wilson crooning the David Soul classic “Don’t Give Up on Us, Baby” is an inspired moment, as is Starsky’s extreme intimidation tactics while questioning a prisoner.

Not so funny is the film’s insistence upon recycling jokes that were tired long before the original TV show debuted in ‘75. Starsky & Hutch marks the second time in two weeks (after Eurotrip) that a big joke is based upon mime humor. Starsky and Hutch, dressed as mimes, crash a bat mitzvah, and hilarity does not ensue. This also looks to be one of two films this year (the other being the upcoming Envy) where Stiller kills a horse. Horse homicide was funny in Animal House, but the gag has seen its day.

As for other moments of supreme unoriginality, the whole car-jumping-from-a-dock-to- a-boat-at-sea shtick is stolen from 2 Fast 2 Furious. Stealing material from 2 Fast 2 Furious … not encouraging.

Stiller and Ferrell provide enough laughter to establish Starsky & Hutch as a movie that is better than truly bad. Considering the talent involved, that’s a pretty big failure. Director Phillips is currently spearheading the production of The Six Million Dollar Man starring Jim Carrey. No more television knockoffs, please!