You have the right to snicker

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Hollywood remakes old TV shows for mercenary reasons - nostalgia and name recognition are a strong marketing combo - but the results are sometimes entertaining.

The movie version of "Starsky & Hutch" is one of the rare TV spinoffs that use dated material as a savvy vehicle for up-to-date talents.

"S&H" was hugely popular in the middle to late 1970s, when millions watched its episodes about two big-city cops with contrasting personalities.

Recommended: 14 acting legends over 70

Played by David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser, they gained extra style from the snazzy Ford Torino that carried them to their busts, stake-outs, and collars, and from the information provided by a streetwise African-American informant called Huggy Bear, played by the inimitable Antonio Fargas.

Today, the show is remembered as silly fluff, already so close to self-parody that spoofing it would be redundant.

The producers of the new "S&H" movie take the series exactly as seriously as it deserves to be taken - mining it for a few cheap thrills and even cheaper laughs, but not pretending to lampoon an entire epoch of culture, as the "Austin Powers" pictures have knocked themselves out trying to do.

Ben Stiller plays Starsky, a cop whose speeding car and itchy trigger finger are sometimes more dangerous than the criminals he's chasing. Owen Wilson plays Hutch, whose creed of criminology is, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

They cause so much trouble that their commander (played by Fred Williamson, a true '70s icon) makes them partners so their mistakes will at least happen in one place at a time.

Their first case together involves a drug dealer (Vince Vaughn) who's about to unleash a new kind of undetectable cocaine. They have more than their share of quarrels and clashes, but gradually learn to respect each other as they bumble their way to success with a doggedness that would impress the unstoppable Inspector Clouseau himself.

To his credit, director Todd Phillips doesn't throw Starsky's beloved Torino into more car chases than the screenplay can justify.

And while the film pushes ethnic stereotyping regrettably far - especially with Huggy Bear and the bad guy, who has a Jewish identity for no apparent reason - it gives most of the characters more well-rounded personalities than you often find in cardboard-thin movies like this.

The title characters are wittily crafted by Messrs. Stiller and Wilson, and Snoop Dogg is a riot as Huggy Bear.

Don't get me wrong. This is no more a cultural classic than the original series, and some of its sex and drug scenes push PG-13 to the breaking point.

But it's often diverting, and if you're nostalgic for the '70s you'll probably have a good time.

Rated PG-13; contains sex, violence, and drugs.

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