'Starsky & Hutch' cast can't bail out remake

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Special to the Journal-World

Owen Wilson, left, and Ben Stiller play the iconic TV cops who must protect fictional Bay City of the 1970s from a drug cartel in "Starsky & Hutch."

Let's take a semi-revered TV cop series from the 1970s and update it with a modern twist. It worked for "Charlie's Angels" and "S.W.A.T." and "The Mod Squad" and ... hey, those movies weren't very good, were they?

Yes, but "Starsky & Hutch" will star Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the roles that turned David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser into pop culture footnotes.

Stiller can play Starsky as a simmering misfit with "short guy syndrome" while Wilson renders Hutch as a smooth-talking hedonist with criminal leanings.

Then, unlike those other television remakes, we'll actually set the show in the decade that spawned it. That way just the sight of the feathered hair, the garish clothes and the abnormally large electronics products will be amusing by themselves.

Next, let's cast thug-life rapper Snoop Dogg as pimp informant Huggy Bear. Snoop won't even have to deal with the wardrobe department; he can wear what he normally has on.

Throw in other can't-miss funnymen such as Vince Vaughn portraying the smug villain and Will Ferrell as his wacko lackey, and this has all the makings of a cult classic.

Except ...

Somewhere between conception and production, these ideas BECAME the movie, because that's all "Starsky & Hutch" really has going for it.

Individual scenes in this big-screen adaptation are not without their charms, but the film doesn't work as a unified comedic entity. It's a sloppy batch of seen-it-before setups and spotty punchlines that never settles on whether to be a parody or an homage.

What a disappointment for Stiller and Wilson, whose sixth collaboration (previous ones include "Meet the Parents" and "Zoolander") has resulted in one of their weakest pairings. It's lucky the two stars generate so much natural chemistry, because it allows them to make even the most ill-conceived sequences watchable.

For as many gags as are thrown at the screen, it's surprising how few stick. Among the highlights is a scene at a biker bar where the detectives' tough-guy posturing is wildly unnecessary. This is one of the few moments when the conversation takes on a sharp, improvisational feel. Stiller and Wilson's manic arguments about the specifics of language recall some of Monty Python's classic sketches.

And the uncredited Ferrell (covering his curly pate with a Ruth Buzzi-style hair net) has a juicy bit as a dragon-obsessed prisoner whose entire role takes place behind Plexiglas. The movie could use more of his welcome weirdness.

Less welcome is writer-director Todd Phillips, who previously worked with much of this gang in last year's "Old School." That movie had some sidesplitting moments before it turned into a snoozer during its third act.

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Starsky & Hutch **

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For their sixth pairing, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson take over the roles of the titular TV cops in an adaptation that can't decide if it's a parody or homage. Individual scenes are not without laughs, but the film doesn't work as a unified comedic entity. Only the stars' natural chemistry bails out the ill-conceived gags.

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Rather than improving with experience, Phillips has regressed back to the skills he displayed while making 2000's "Road Trip" -- which were little to none. His latest flick is shot and paced no better than its network source material. The only thing more flat than the film's visual style is Snoop Dogg's performance. (The artist's delivery teeters between subtle and comatose.)

Phillips consistently blows primo opportunities. A "Disco Vietnam" dance-off between Stiller and cult musician Har Mar Superstar is much funnier on paper than in execution.

Ditto for the idea of having the same vulgar band that performs at the wedding reception in "Old School" show up here for a bat mitzvah. If only they actually said or did something humorous this time around.

At the beginning of the picture, Stiller narrates, "There's no such thing as a petty crime."

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Special to the Journal-World

Snoop Dogg, left, confers with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the big-screen adaptation of the 1970s TV series "Starsky & Hutch."

Can't think of a better phrase to describe the act of squandering this much talent in a film so inconsequential.

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