Dir: Todd Phillips. US. 2003. 100 mins.
Hollywood's infatuation with the cheesy classics of 1970s American TV continues with an action comedy take on Starsky & Hutch that plays for laughs more than thrills and gets just about enough of them to, in all probability, keep the affair going for at least another year. If the comedy itself doesn't prove a powerful box office draw when it opens in the US this weekend, the package around it - a re-teaming of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson under the guidance of Old School director Todd Phillips - might, especially at home, leaving Warner to reap a healthy return from its very wide and heavily promoted domestic release. Buena Vista will have a much more challenging task in international markets, where the original series will be less cherished and where Stiller and Wilson may not have quite the same pull.
Over the course of its four-year run in the US - and many international territories - in the second half of the 1970s, Starsky & Hutch gave TV audiences their first taste of the kind of maverick cop duo that would later hit the streets in everything from Miami Vice to Bad Boys. Mixing touches of goofy humour with buddy bonding and rubber-burning action, the series, executive produced by Aaron Spelling, made sex symbols of David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser and gave little boys of all ages new action heroes to imitate.
For the big screen, Phillips and his Old School writing partner Scot Armstrong adapt the elements for a younger, more self-conscious audience. They keep the mid-1970s California setting but exaggerate the characters, making Stiller's Starsky a comically obsessive justice seeker and Wilson's Hutch a skirt-chasing wide boy equally at home on either side of the law. Huggy Bear, the team's pimp-informant, was a bit of a buffoon in the TV show but here, played by rapper Snoop Dogg, he is a much cooler (and slightly more PC) presence.
Where other recent vintage TV transfers - like I Spy and Charlie's Angels, another Spelling original - have emphasised action, Starsky & Hutch turns up the comedy (though it does find time for a couple of old school car chases featuring Starsky's trademark red and white muscle car). Trouble is, the film can't seem to decide whether it's a contemporary action comedy based on a 1970s template or an out-and-out spoof.
There are some funny, if predictable comic bits: Will Ferrell (one of several Old School cast members making an appearance) does a nice turn as a kinky jailbird who fancies Hutch, and Stiller has fun with a disco dance-off scene.
But, perhaps to avoid confusing cinemagoers too young to remember the TV show, the film rarely looks for humour in direct references to the series - the best opportunity to do so, a brief cameo by Soul and Glaser, is curiously wasted. And the references to 1970s pop culture in general do little more than point out that waterbeds, male perms and fondue sets were kind of naff.
Stiller (coming off recent hit Along Came Polly) and Wilson (not quite so hot after I Spy, Shanghai Knights and The Big Bounce) are the film's biggest selling point, and they get plenty of chances to display the chemistry glimpsed in previous collaborations like Meet The Parents, Zoolander and The Royal Tenenbaums. Phillips, who is now set to direct The Six Million Dollar Man, one of several upcoming 1970s TV adaptations, does a very capable job, but he will need to find better material than this if he is to build on the promise shown in Old School and his 2000 success Road Trip.
Prod cos: Warner Bros Pictures, Dimension Films
US dist: Warner
Int'l dist: Buena Vista
Exec prod: Gilbert Adler
Prods: William Blinn, Stuart Cornfeld, Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche
Scr: John O'Brien, Todd Phillips & Scot Armstrong, from a story by Stevie Long, John O'Brien, based on characters created by William Blinn
Cine: Barry Peterson
Prod des: Edward Verreaux
Ed: Leslie Jones
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Main cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, Snoop Dogg