Owen Wilson has a smarmy-cool, utterly natural screen persona of wicked, crooked smiles, cheeky ad-libs and ironically understated wisecracks. He never strays far from this trademarked character, but no matter who he's playing -- petty criminal ("The Big Bounce"), crooked cowboy ("Shanghai Noon"), severely dysfunctional pop novelist ("The Royal Tenenbaums") -- he seems like a guy it would be fun to hang out with.
Ben Stiller, on the other hand, has fallen into a terrible rut as an insufferable prat. Whether he's a caricature of a romantic failure ("Along Came Polly"), a caricature of a dim-bulb fashion model ("Zoolander") or a caricature of a nervous son-in-law ("Meet the Parents"), he never strays far from the same brand of off-putting, uptight dorkiness masked in mock-cool-guy pouts and tedious moments of deliberately cheesy slow-motion (say, while dancing like a dork, strutting like a dork or running like a dork). He seems like a guy you wouldn't want to spend two minutes with if you could at all help it.
Wilson has been a breath of scene-stealing fresh air in several Stiller vehicles (especially in "Zoolander" and "Meet the Parents"), but their yin-and-yang routine hits a wall in "Starsky and Hutch," a lifelessly stale parody-remake of the none-too-great-in-the-first-place 1970s cop show.
Borrowing little more from the series than the characters' names and their '74 Ford Grand Torino muscle car, director Todd Phillips ("Old School," "Road Trip") operates under the delusion that all a satire needs in order to be funny is the thick application of deliberately self-aware clichés.
Detective David Starsky (Stiller) is an uptight by-the-booker with a bad perm who is the butt of department jokes. Detective Ken Hutchison (Wilson) is the laid-back, loose cannon who comes to work late and picks the pockets of dead bodies for loose cash before calling for the meat wagon. They're odd-couple plain-clothes cops assigned to each other by one of those irascible, barking, badge-suspending captains (Fred Williamson) who soon, of course, is enraged by some embarrassing misconduct and takes them off their Big Case -- bringing down a listlessly archetypal cocaine dealer (Vince Vaughn). This guy is a meant-to-be-ironic cliché too, the kind of baddie who shoots a henchman off the side of a yacht, then turns around to his dingbat mistress (Juliette Lewis, absolute wasted in the role) and nonchalantly asks, "Am I tanning weird?"
Letting the camera roll on Stiller and Wilson in the hopes that something funny will happen, Phillips gets lucky from time to time. Stiller has about three choice minutes in which he mistakes coke for artificial sweetener, puts it in his coffee and goes on a hopped-up hyperactive spree. But even that scene culminates in one of the film's parade of predictable 1970s gags -- a disco dance-off in which Stiller repeats the same inept, slow-mo boogie-mugging routine that was already trite and tired when he did it in January's "Along Came Polly."
When Phillips isn't using period iconography as a crutch, he's falling back on cheap laughs from homoerotic locker room scenes (Starsky wrestles another cop wearing only his gun and a hand towel around his waist) and cheap teenage-boy turn-ons from homoerotic make-out scenes (bimbo girlfriends Amy Smart and Carmen Electra snog each other for Hutch's pleasure).
The film gets a few true chuckles out of peripheral performances, notably from rap star Snoop Dogg (reviving the TV show's street-cool pimp-informant Huggy Bear) and Will Ferrell ("Elf") as a prison informant who won't sing until Starsky and Hutch agree to "show a little skin."
But only Wilson emerges unscathed from this feeble comedy, just by virtue of being what we've come to recognize as himself. Good movie, bad movie, he's just out to have some fun, and his talent lies in letting the audience in on it.
As for Stiller, here's hoping he gives up the schtick acting and returns to playing characters with some character, as he did in "Keeping the Faith," "Permanent Midnight" (which also co-starred Wilson) and -- even though it's the movie that set him on this path -- "There's Something About Mary."
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th March 2004
Box Office USA: $88.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $170.3M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 120 Rotten: 69
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Ben Stiller as David Starsky, Owen Wilson as Ken Hutchinson, Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear, Fred Williamson as Captain Doby, Vince Vaughn as Reese Feldman, Juliette Lewis as Kitty, Jason Bateman as Kevin, Carmen Electra as Staci, Will Ferrell as Big Earl, Amy Smart as Holly, Brande Roderick as Heather, Molly Sims as Mrs. Feldman
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