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Review: 'Starsky & Hutch' mindless fun

Stiller-Wilson chemistry carries movie

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Starsky Hutch
Owen Wilson (Hutch) and Ben Stiller (Starsky) work on a case in "Starsky & Hutch."

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(CNN) -- The TV cop show "Starsky & Hutch," which aired from 1975 through 1979, was a goofy mixture of gritty street crime and tongue-in-cheek humor. Now, Ben Stiller (Starsky) and Owen Wilson (Hutch) try to follow in the footsteps of Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul.

They follow very well.

Stiller and Wilson have the clothes, they have the attitude, and -- most important of all -- they have the hair. It's the pair's sixth film together, and their comedic timing is perfect. They take what could easily have been a big cheesy comedy and made it into a light and silly soufflé.

Writer/director Todd Phillips ("Old School") gives the film the look and feel of a 1970s made-for-TV movie, and writers John O'Brien, Scot Armstrong and Steve Long have taken the inherent quirks and differences between the TV characters and blown them up, while still maintaining a light touch.

Yin and yang

Detective David Starsky (Stiller) isn't just dedicated to his job as an undercover cop -- he's maniacal about it. Detective Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Wilson) isn't just careless and looking for a quick buck -- he's totally hapless and hazardously laidback. It's classic yin and yang, and Stiller and Wilson play these differences to the hilt with hilarious results.

As on the TV show, Starsky and Hutch have a street-savvy informant, Huggy Bear, now played by Snoop Dogg, who walks a thin line between informant and gangster. When the reluctant partners find a body along Bay City's coastline, they're off and running on a case that soon leads to a massive drug ring and a possible gigantic bust.

As the plot thickens, it becomes apparent that wealthy businessman Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) is behind the lucrative drug deal, and has a plan to foil the DEA. He's created cocaine that is undetectable by taste or smell. In fact, it tastes like artificial sweetener, which leads to one of the film's funniest sequences.

Now the boys need to shift into high gear as they race to make their case before Feldman can sell his designer coke, grab the cash, and escape the long arm of the law.

Straight comedy

Huggy Bear, the pimp-informant, is played by Snoop Dogg.

The comedy works in large part because it's never treated like a comedy. The filmmakers are not making fun of their source material, or trying to do a spoof or parody. Instead, Stiller and Wilson play their characters very straight and very real.

The sets and costumes are also wonderful. Dogg's '70s pimp wardrobe is decidedly over-the-top, and Stiller's pressed jeans -- with a crease that could cut cheese -- are right on the money.

Both Stiller and Wilson say they are longtime fans of the TV show, and that shows in their attention to the little details of their characters. The tightly wound Stiller makes an ideal Starsky, and Wilson's "come what may" attitude plays perfectly into the character of Hutch.

In a way, the relationship between the TV characters was the forerunner of other cop buddy films, such as Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs and Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh in the highly popular 1980s "Lethal Weapon" franchise.

Vaughn is a fine villain. Sporting a Fu Manchu mustache that could eat Cleveland, he can be evil and charming at the same time. That helps since his character is a homicidal drug dealer, an easy-going playboy, and a devoted father -- all simultaneously. Juliette Lewis brings plenty of quirky details to her role as Vaughn's incredibly loyal and somewhat dimwitted mistress.

"Starsky & Hutch" is a silly summer movie served up cold in March. But it will warm your funny bone if given half a chance.

"Starsky & Hutch" opens nationwide on Friday, March 5, and is rated PG-13.

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