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— Hugh Grant, Two Weeks Notice

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The original Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) has a cameo in Starsky & Hutch, and he looks less than amused. Is he playing his part, or is he actually a little miffed that his cop drama has been turned into a parody, and that his character is being played by a comedian?

Hopefully he’s just acting. It’s been 25 years since I saw an episode of the TV show, and as cool as it was then, I can’t imagine that it has aged well. Perhaps a comedy/parody is the best thing to happen to Starsky & Hutch.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Wilson and Stiller keep an eye on crime
Wilson and Stiller keep an eye on crime

Stiller and Wilson do their thing. Their parts have been written to fit their schtick. Stiller’s character, as ever, is uptight and neurotic (his mother was a cop, killed in the line of duty). Wilson, once again, is mister laissez-faire.

They actually make a good pair of mismatched buddy cops — Starsky (Stiller) can be the by-the-book good cop and Hutch (Wilson) can be the reckless bad cop, or vice-versa: the bad cop can be the hard-ass and the good cop can say “everything’s cool.”

Set in “the seventies,” the plot is made from the discarded parts of other cop shows. A drug dealer (Vince Vaughn) has a new type of cocaine, undetectable by dogs. The partners — assigned to each other by a blustering, frustrated police chief — catch wind of a big drug deal about to go down. Their investigation leads them to cheerleader practice, biker bars, prison cells, and a bat mitzvah at the kingpin’s home. There’s even a “you’re off the case!” scene, after which the partners have to finish their work on their own time.

Outside the Precinct

The movie benefits from a cast of colorful characters. Snoop Dogg plays Huggy Bear, Hutch’s pimped-out underworld informant. Will Ferrell is the prisoner who won’t talk unless Hutch shows him his belly button. Vaughn has fun with his power as a drug kingpin Reese Feldman. There are women in the movie, but they are mostly objects. Juliette Lewis is a minor exception, as Feldman’s moll.

Refreshingly, there’s no love interest and no moralizing, just action and comedy. The one time Starsky tries to impart a lesson, it’s to a bunch of bikers, and his message is “be yourself.” Of course, he’s still in his “Easy Rider” disguise, mustache half-stuck to his lip after being pummeled by the locals.

We Are Amused

Starsky & Hutch is a lot of fun. There are some too-easy jabs at “the seventies,” particularly when Huggy Bear is on-screen. Starsky tells one of his tormentors to “sit on it.” But the movie shows more affection for the era than it might have. The big disco battle is goofy, but it’s not a complete mockery; there’s actually some talent involved. The music and style of the seventies are coming back through hip-hop culture, so maybe the movie is less a parody than an homage.

There is also some good comic writing that would have worked no matter what era the movie is set in. Hutch is such a bad cop that he opens the movie as a robber. Was he really working undercover or was he moonlighting? With Wilson’s zen comedy, it’s impossible to say. On their first assignment, Starsky and Hutch find a body floating in the bay, and Hutch’s first instinct is to push it back out and hope it lands in another precinct.

The movie is also kinetic and kaleidoscopic eye candy. There are car chases, foot chases, disguises, and colorful characters in flashy costumes, including a team of cheerleaders (led by Amy Smart and Carmen Electra) in terry-cloth short shorts.

So for what it is, Starsky & Hutch is a big success. Perhaps Paul Michael Glaser is not amused, but the rest of us will be.