Starsky & Hutch

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Is it wrong to laugh a lot at a movie but still come out of it thinking it should have been funnier? Is that just being greedy? Because that’s the effect “Starsky & Hutch” had on me.

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are a reliable on-screen pair — Stiller with his uptight, nit-picking persona, Wilson in his role as the affable stoner — and this is a perfect vehicle for them, as it combines their comedic skill with an opportunity for deadpan irony, at which they excel, used here in mocking praise of a cheesy 1970s TV show.

But though it certainly has its moments, it never achieves a high level of hilarity. It’s uneven — never irritating or flat-out BAD, but never all that good, either. Viewers who remember the series it’s based on might get more out of it than the rest of us.

Stiller is Starsky; Wilson is Hutch. They’re mismatched detectives on the trail of drug lord Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), who has developed a new kind of cocaine that’s virtually undetectable and untraceable. They have a pimp-attired informant named Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), and they get additional guidance from a perverse prison inmate played by Will Ferrell. In between, they get yelled at a lot by their stereotypically blustery boss, Capt. Doby (Fred Williamson).

If the TV series employed all the buddy-cop stereotypes with a straight face, the film does so winkingly. That blustery boss, Starsky’s self-serious, over-eager tough-guy language, all the generic action and explosions — we’re not expected to take them seriously. We’re supposed to laugh, because we get how cliché they are.

The trouble is, the film is 101 minutes of just that. Irony is, by nature, a form of humor that is detached from its audience as well as its target. We like comedy that will laugh with us; irony is comedy that expects us to laugh while it stands there stone-faced, smug and aloof. If irony is all you’re serving, then it had better be some darn funny irony, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Stiller and Wilson are admirably committed to their roles; Ferrell is typically bizarre in his cameo; and let’s face it, this is the role Snoop Dogg was born to play. Directed by Todd Phillips (“Road Trip,” “Old School”), the film is fitfully amusing but never quite reaches the heights it ought to.

B- (1 hr., 41 min.; PG-13, scattered profanity, one F-word, some partial nudity, a little sexuality, some violence.)

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