Not only do the cultural touchstones of the1970s refuse to go away, but they keep getting super-sized, as yet another '70s TV show makes the leap to the big screen. Unlike recent retreads like last year's humorless knockoff of S.W.A.T. or the painfully self-conscious Charlie's Angels twin-set, Starsky & Hutch aims for somewhere between faithful and funny. Director Todd Phillips (Old School) manages to tread the fine line between "homage," light mockery and any other mismatched buddy-cop movie you've seen in the past two decades.
It's set in the mid-1970s, where uptight cop Starsky (Ben Stiller) is reluctantly partnered with laid-back goofball Hutch (Owen Wilson), enabling this film to function as a prequel of sorts. The film's focus is on its titular duo in comic situations, and there's less narrative arc than in a typical TV episode. Their simple assignment -- tracking down a big drug bust -- necessitates going undercover, checking in with Hutch's stoolie, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), and cruising around in Starksy's super-boss Gran Torino.
Casting Stiller and Wilson feels right, but almost too right: If both tackle very familiar roles, they're as entertaining as ever -- as themselves -- and well matched by Vince Vaughn, who plays the drug kingpin Reese with a sublime mix of '70s élan and self-absorption.
Starsky & Hutch isn't a flat-out belly-buster, but it's got plenty of chuckles. Phillips' touch is light enough -- and the cast effectively enough on point -- that the film milks yuks even out of such tried-and-true comic premises as accidentally ingesting drugs, disco dancing, mimes and out-dated technology. Phillips also wisely downplays the settings and the costumes, two places where smirky retro-ists love to pile it on. The "Bay City" locales are perfectly bland, that classic Any City USA (but of course we shot it in Los Angeles) location that defined 1970s television. Sure, Huggy Bear's threads here are way more pimpadelic than necessary, but their outlandishness is mitigated by a scene of Snoop Dogg in his drawers: His is a physique that cries out for the layering of purple-hued furs.
Admittedly, I'm reluctant to totally surrender to the frothy silliness because there's still something depressing about the fact that Hollywood keeps mining television of the '70s rather than dreaming up anything new. Starsky & Hutch was already exhibiting goofiness as a TV show back in 1975-79, and frankly, the funniest riff on Starsky & Hutch was done back in 1998 in Spike Jonze's brilliant video for the Beastie Boys video "Sabotage." But since this movie's already been made, what the hell: I laughed along.