It’s somewhat disappointing that Starsky & Hutch, a blend of the retro and the updated, isn’t able to be a hurt-your-face laugher.
However, some trappings of the traditional cop movie handcuff its flow, namely the kid in jeopardy. But for all its faults, at least Starsky & Hutch isn’t about Stiller and Wilson firing off rounds while pulling Motocross no-handers in mid-air.
When Stiller’s Starsky fears he won’t live up to his mother’s reputation as a top cop, that’s a bit of subversion that clicks. And when the detective duo is bum-rushed by a small boy who throws knives and throws them well, it’s a hilarious scene.
Worse than the kid schooling them is that they mistake him for “a little man.” Their machismo gets in the way of owning up to the punishment they’re taking, and it captures both the inspired lunacy the film has when it’s working and the aw-shucks chemistry of Stiller and Wilson — the best comedy team working right now.
The film riffs on the origins of the partnership. The two conflicting detectives are thrown together on a murder case tied to white-collar drug peddler Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn, now specializing in smugness). Feldman’s evil concoction is cocaine undetectable to drug dogs. (It gives rise to a nicely underplayed joke about old Coke versus new Coke.)
Starsky is the one with all the issues, firing his gun off at random and breaking into tears mid-pursuit. Wilson’s Hutch is the one as content to roll with the criminals as he is to bust them. It’s the typically goony stoner-relaxation performance from Wilson, who thankfully doesn’t ruin this outing with the buddy-movie jinx he brought to the Shanghai Noon films.
They get some help on the street from Huggy Bear, an informant played by Snoop Dogg. His work in the film is effortless, stealing it every time with the mere sight of his skinny frame, flowing locks and pimped-out cane.
The relationship between Starsky and Hutch is portrayed as a romantic comedy without the romance, sort of like Jay and Silent Bob’s declaration of being “hetero life mates.” But that doesn’t mean it’s without any sexual tension. Will Ferrell handles that, turning up in yet another flawless cameo as a prison informant forcing fetishes on Starsky and Hutch in return for dropping dimes.
Starsky & Hutch is more about humor and hero worship than plot, which is fine, and the movie ambles along mostly at a moderate pace, both a laid-back blessing and its too-lazy curse.
It balances a costume and set-design lampooning the 1970s, from Starsky’s sweater style down to the cartoonish cans of RC and Hires on his desk. And occasional manic moments, such as those with Ferrell, work well.
While it never stretches for a joke, some jokes are simply uninspired or overlong, such as Hutch’s gross hangover cure and the irony of a not-that-fat man being named Big Earl. And although Stiller doesn’t end up in any bathrooms, he takes to the dance floor in another soon-to-be-tired trademark.
Still, it’s better to have a handful of jokes that don’t work than a dozen head-shaking action sequences slapped together and called a movie. The movie has a pulled-back sense that it may have been a little naughtier in an earlier cut. But just because it’s not as funny as it could have been doesn’t mean it’s not a good comedy all the same.