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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 18th March 2004:

Old-fashioned hi-jinks of a distinctly different tenor are on offer in Todd Phillips’ Starsky & Hutch, based – as if it needed to be said – on the seventies TV show of the same name. I am only just barely old enough to dimly recall the series on its original UK transmission, but it seemed to re-run constantly in the eighties – and in case, surely everyone has the bare essentials branded into their brains by now: WASPish cop, Polish cop, more-than-a-bit-racist informant, the most iconic car in television history, a relationship with undertones that inspired a thousand slash fanfics, running around, groovy theme music…

The new movie is sort of grimly impressive in the way it takes all the recognisable elements of the Starsky & Hutch TV show and then relentlessly guts them in order to provide a generic vehicle for two popular contemporary comedians. Ben Stiller is Starsky! Owen Wilson is Hutch! And Awix is getting a bit sick of all these sneeringly ironic remakes of classic TV shows…

That’s not to say that Starsky & Hutch isn’t an amusing and well-made film on its own terms. Set in 1975 California, the plot sees the neurotic Starsky and the more-than-slightly-corrupt Hutch teamed up and put on the trail of millionaire drug dealer Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn in an impressively tacky perm and ‘tache). Snoop Dogg plays Huggy Bear, not especially well. What follows is basically a series of comedy sketches poking fun at various police-procedural cliches and seventies fads. Some of these work better than others – in particular, an Easy Rider parody made me chuckle rather a lot, as did a couple of gags at the expense of famous bits from the TV show’s title sequence.

But these moments are pretty much all the movie has to do with the TV show. There’s no attempt to recreate the characters from the series, the two leads basically recycle their established comic personae – Stiller is twitchy and a bit straight-laced, but at least he at times bears a striking resemblence to Paul Michael Glaser. This is more than can be said for Wilson, who, as ever, resembles a boy-band version of Jimmy Stewart following a botched rhinoplasty. Glaser and David Soul are wheeled on at the end, you may be interested to hear, for a crushingly knowing encounter with their replacements – but they have the decency to look properly embarrassed. Antonio Fargas is nowhere to be seen – always a cool customer, that boy…

I sort of enjoyed this film but I still came out feeling a bit cheated. If you changed the character names and got rid of the Ford Gran Torino this could be Bad Boys 3 or something completely new and you’d never know. It’s really just an extremely cynical attempt to cash in on the value of the Starsky & Hutch brand, more brazen even than previous attempts like Charlie’s Angels or Lost In Space. The film-makers seem rather contemptuous both of the original series, thinking it has nothing material to offer a contemporary film, and also the audience, thinking we’ll stumble along to any old thing with a famous name. (Although they may be right – this film has taken over $40 million at the American box office alone at the time of writing.)

Anyway, surely I faintly hear the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped (unless the long-threatened film version of The Six Million Dollar Man is finally on its way) – there can’t be that many more classic TV shows to mess up, and they certainly can’t make a film adaptation less true to the spirit of the original than this. That’s the strange anomaly at the centre of this film: as a knockabout comedy, it’s pretty good – but as a Starsky & Hutch movie, it’s a bit disappointing.

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