A bad flashback

In an awkward sort of way, the new “Starsky and Hutch” (Warner Bros.), starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, all but defies description. It’s not really the ’70s television show brought back to life on the big screen, nor is it the same kind of through-the-looking-glass bizzaro comedy that fans of the duo may be hoping for. Instead it’s a sort of uncomfortable jumble of the two that’s occasionally funny and often stylish, but rarely satisfying.

Dave Starsky (Stiller) and Ken Hutchinson (Wilson) are two comically mismatched cops out to stop cocaine dealer Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) from distributing “New Coke,” a type of cocaine that’s completely undetectable by police dogs. The film explores how Starsky and Hutch became partners, something the television show always left to the imagination. Starsky is anal retentive, Hutch plays fast and loose with the rules and hijinks ensue … it’s like a coked-up “Odd Couple” in tight pants.

Speaking of tight pants, the way the movie distills ’70s nostalgia is perhaps its finest quality. The clothes, the music, that famous car – it’s all here, right down to Huggie Bear’s (Snoop Dogg) truly resplendent pimp gear. The film is even shot like the TV series, with low-angle car chases and “vertigo”-style reaction shots that add to film’s authentic feel.

The problem there is that the movie feels like the show, but won’t play it straight. The jokes are off-color, absurd and frequently hit-or-miss. Some sequences, like the Will Ferrell cameo, are right on, but others feel forced, like Starsky’s coked-up disco dance-off. Watching this film requires being able to forgive the actors one moment so you can laugh at them the next. The performances are fine – Stiller and Wilson have the same great chemistry they always have, Will Ferrell steals the show in every shot he’s in and even Snoop Dogg pulls his own weight – but no one can make this script work all the time, so much of the humor ends up feeling forced and out of place.

The movie wants to be all things to all people. It pays homage to a television series that most younger viewers have never seen, but it also plays heavily on the chemistry between Stiller and Wilson. There are some fine moments, but for the most part the two elements go together like watermelon and tacos. By the end, you’ll either wish Stiller and Wilson had just done a buddy cop movie together, without all the weird ’70s nostalgia, or that someone else had made a straight Starsky and Hutch film.

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