Think of it: were detective Dave Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and his partner, Ken Hutchinson (David Soul), hot for each other when they started working undercover in Bay City? You can suss out clues from the ABC series that ran from 1975 to 1979, or you can watch Starsky and Hutch on the big screen and see subtext stiffen into hard and hilarious evidence. Turning moldy cop shows into movies has become such a numbing quick-buck proposition (The Mod Squad, I Spy, The Avengers) that it's bracing to find one with the smarts to laugh at itself, not to mention the studly stereotypes spawned by the Dirty Harry era. And while the gags in Starsky and Hutch are more hit-and-miss than nonstop inspiration, the movie does get a fair share of laughs, starting with the gay thing. Even the opening credits tease the fab duo by having Barry Manilow warble his lovesick hit "Can't Smile Without You." Then director and co-writer Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) -- who cleverly shoots the retro film like an early episode of the TV series -- gives us something the series never did: the first meeting of Starsky, played by Ben Stiller with the comic intensity of an actor fulfilling a lifelong dream, and Hutch, in the unfailingly affable person of Owen Wilson doing a spin on his patented stoner dude. Starsky is an uptight career cop fixated on matching the record of his late mother, who dominated the department and her son with an iron nightstick. Hutch plays it loose, working both sides of the law with the help of Huggy Bear, a pimpish informant memorably played on TV by Antonio Fargas and given fresh sass here by Snoop Dogg. Hutch's shady morality really miffs Starsky. The initial sparring of this odd couple develops into something deeper, though Starsky is a classic closet case who expresses his romantic longing for his partner in dreams only. As for the pansexual Hutch, he isn't above a three-way with two cheerleaders (Carmen Electra and Amy Smart), but when he picks up a guitar and sings "Don't Give Up on Us," Starsky thinks it's all for him. The play-it-straight innocence gives the movie a touching charm. Otherwise, they could have cast Queer Eye's Kyan Douglas and Carson Kressley for a campy update. Stiller and Wilson have previously worked together in five movies (The Cable Guy, Permanent Midnight, Meet the Parents, The Royal Tenenbaums, the immortal Zoolander), and their teamwork is now as polished as fine oak. It's fun to watch them go undercover as mimes to infiltrate the bat mitzvah of the daughter of drug lord Reese Feldman (a sassy, smarmy Vince Vaughn). And it's even funnier during a shower scene at the police station in which the boys -- oblivious to guffaws from their fellow cops -- strap on phallic pistols while covering their genitals with tiny hand towels. Funniest of all is Will Ferrell getting in on the gay act as Big Earl, a hairnet-wearing jailbird who agrees to be a stoolie if the boys pose in compromising positions. As for the disguises Starsky wears on the job -- his Easy Rider biker drag is pure Village People.f this seems too much of a gay thing, the movie also earns points for re-creating the Seventies in all their tacky glory, complete with Starsky's cherry-and-white-striped 1976 Ford Gran Torino, which he strokes like a lover. Another iconic touch is casting blaxploitation king Fred Williamson (Hammer) as Captain Dobey and bringing on Soul and Glaser, both sixty, for a cameo. Soul reportedly complained that the movie lacks the TV show's dramatic edge. What's he talking about? An action-comedy that lays waste to an army of macho cliches knows laughs can cut deep.
From The Archives Issue 232: February 10, 1977