* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2004 at Loews Boston Common #17 (first-run)
It's kind of fun to go in blind. Somehow, before last night, I'd never seen a trailer or television ad for Starsky & Hutch, not had I ever seen an episode of the original TV series. I didn't even know Will Ferrell or Jason Bateman was in the movie. I just knew that Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson were two pretty funny guys whose usually screen personae should complement each other.
In the end, that's what I got - a couple funny guys doing the mismatched-cop thing and playing off each other well. Stiller is twitchy and dorky in an over-the-top way as David Starsky, while Owen Wilson is the relaxed, easygoing Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson. There's a plot about a new kind of cocaine that police drug-sniffing dogs can't detect, which gives the guys something to investigate while riffing on each other. Fortunately, the movie only briefly flirts with becoming a serious crime drama; the one time the stuff done to push the plot forward can't be done with a joke is one time too many, but the movie gets back on track.
One thing I appreciated was that the movie seldom resorted to The Wedding Singer-style non-jokes; there was very little in the way of "hey, look, it's something from the seventies! Isn't that tacky?" There are some bits like that, but generally it's from the perspective that Starsky is considered a dork, even within what is now considered an unsightly decade, or a fairly amusing bit where Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) has to wear a wire, and the joke is the unwieldiness of this 30-year-ago surveilance gear.
The film's biggest fault, if you can call it a fault, is that while it manages a fairly steady stream of chuckles, the really big laugh never comes. It's a good comedy, but it doesn't have a moment like, say, Wheezy Joe confusing his gun and his inhaler in Intolerable Cruelty which is so perfectly conceived and executed as to seem worth the price of admission by itself, with the rest of the movie a bonus. I'm not sure that's a fair thing to ask, though, with the rest of the movie being funny and enjoyable.