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Starsky & Hutch

At this point, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson probably could get smartass adaptation of A Farewell to Arms greenlit for $40 million. It doesn't really matter what the boys do, you see — it's simply how they do it. Which is why Starsky & Hutch (2004) bears very little resemblance to the 1975 TV show (originally starring Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul), except for the characters' names and that tomato-red Ford Grand Torino with its distinctive white racing stripe. Why not shoot a comic update of Emergency, or Adam 12, or even Room 222? (Not to worry, everything in reruns will become a major movie someday). To be fair, among the cool and semi-cool '70s TV shows that today's aging GenXers cut their teeth on, "Starsky and Hutch" ranked among the best, thanks to its renegade plainclothes cops and extra horsepower — of all network outings, it was the one that got the closest to capturing the street-level intensity of The French Connection. Here, director Todd Phillips (Old School) teams up with Stiller, Wilson, and a crew of actors who are starting to become an easily recognized ensemble of comic talent, for little reason other than play cops-and-robbers like a bunch of snarky kids pretending to be their TV heroes. Re-crafted as an origin story, Stiller stars as David Starsky, an undercover cop who's so uptight that he'll abandon lunch if he thinks a gumball machine is getting jimmied half-a-mile away. But after Starsky causes considerable damage while recovering a stolen purse with seven bucks in it, Bay City PD Capt. Doby (Fred Williamson) teams him up with Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson (Wilson). Starsky thinks Hutch is entirely too lax when it comes to police regulations, and he thinks even less of his top informant, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg). But H-Bizzle has some dope for the shizzle — a new shipment of cocaine is headed for Bay City, and it will be the biggest in the city's history. Meanwhile, clues found on a dead body lead our boys to an incarcerated biker (Will Ferrell, uncredited), and then to wealthy businessman Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). Feldman, it seems, is importing "new coke," which has all the properties of pure white junk but throws off trained dogs. With a plot that's entirely suitable for a 48-min. episode of "Starsky and Hutch" circa 1977, the overall success of Todd Phillips' update rests squarely on the shoulders of his screenwriters and cast — who, fortunately, come up with enough winning moments to make the film worth a Saturday-night spin over a few Pabst tallboys. Set-pieces include Stiller and Wilson dressing up as bikers (with a nod to Easy Rider) to shake down a biker-bar, the duo adopting pantomime outfits to infiltrate a children's party, and Stiller — inadvertently buzzing on new coke — showing off his moves at a local discotheque. But the highlight reel isn't what make Stiller and Wilson such likable movie stars. Each scene is built around their clash of personalities, and Philips wisely lets the cameras roll while the pair engage in free-form conversation, bouncing back and forth between Stiller's intensity and Wilson's loopy earnestness. The movie feels like a better snack than a meal, but with a run-time just above 90 minutes, it's just about right. Warner's DVD release of Starsky & Hutch features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary from director Todd Phillips, an "ironic" behind-the-scenes featurette, in which the cast and crew verbally backstab each other (9 min., and funny for perhaps two); "Fashion Fa Shizzle Wit Huggy Bizzle" (2 min.), a deleted scenes reel (6 min.) a gag reel (5 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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