Best of DVDs...with M.V. Moorhead
Starsky & Hutch

The world's need for a big-budget feature version of Starsky and Hutch ranks somewhere below that of a cure for cancer or a clean-burning energy source. But through some combination of a comparatively low up-front investment and a comparatively high short-term profit potential, the big-screen Starsky & Hutch" has managed to arrive first, with Ben Stiller and the earnest, righteous former, Owen Wilson as the relaxed, easygoing latter, and the much-loved Gran Torino as itself.

For the benefit of those who are too young to remember it—that is, the bulk of the audience at whom this PG-13 movie is aimed—Starsky and Hutch was a cop-buddy show which ran from 1975 to 1979 on ABC.

Focusing on fights and chases, and on the hip friendship of the title characters, it was enormously popular, and though it wasn't intended as an outright comedy, it had a lasting effect on the "action-comedy" genre.

I was in eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grades when it was on, and while I remember it being the regular talk of my classmates, I don't think I ever watched a whole episode at the time. So I can't say how true to the spirit of the show the film is. I can say that it couldn't be a much more imbecilic movie, of course, but I'd be lying if I said that none of it made me laugh. And in any case, it’s vastly better than 2002’s abysmal I Spy, another vintage-TV knockoff starring Wilson. 

Stiller, with his wound-up intensity, and Wilson, with his high-pitched, wheedling effusiveness, are both one-of-a-kind performers, and though the script gives them woefully little to work with, they have an agreeable rapport.

A large and goofy cast supports them—Snoop Dogg is somnolently deadpan and pretty funny as streetwise informant Huggy Bear, Fred Williamson is a welcome presence as gruff Captain Doby, and Vince Vaughn is hilarious as the nettled, kvetching drug-lord villain. Juliette Lewis seems very much of the period as his groovy-chick mistress, and while they have less onscreen charisma, Amy Smart and Carmen Electra are similarly convincing as the cheerleaders which our heroes romance.

Jason Bateman, Chris Penn, Patton Oswalt and Richard Edson liven things up in smaller roles, as do a couple of surprise cameos.

Make no mistake, Starsky & Hutch is just a glossy, facetious time-killer, and how painful you'll find the death of that time depends on two questions: First, can you tolerate Stiller and Wilson? Second, how fond are you of '70s kitsch? Starsky & Hutch seems to have been made, above all, for the sake of the self-conscious deployment of '70s pop music, clothes, hairstyles, cars.

It should also be noted that the young director, Todd Phillips (Old School), really captures the drably functional look, and the stiff narrative rhythm, of old-school episodic TV. For whatever that may be worth.

The DVD—The extras are as inconsequential as the movie—audio commentaries by Stiller, Wilson and the director; a send-up of a “Making of” documentary, some deleted scenes, a gag reel and a few other minor do-dads.  In short, this isn’t a disc you buy for the bells and whistles.

The PG-13 rating is lenient. The movie is probably a little risque for younger kids.