I was surprised by how much this film didn’t strike me as an off-the-cuff pastiche of the original TV show. Yes, there are perm and disco jokes. Yes, they make a big deal of the car. Yes, the camera work deliberately mocks “classic” seventies zoom shots and outboard chase-cams. But overall, this felt like a comedy that could stand on its own two feet.
Ben Stiller in particular makes the character of David Starsky his own. Owen Wilson plays Hutch as his standard cuddly, flaky rogue, and the dynamic between the two heroes is good. The story is simple, but it doesn’t go for Naked Gun-style absurdity: the bad guy (Vince Vaughn) is a serious drug dealer (with some decidedly odd henchmen–Will Ferrell is subtly excellent as Big Earl), not a madman with a crazy plot to take over the world.
I think that’s what makes the difference: the comedy flows from the story, rather than the other way round. It also clearly has a lot of respect and affection for the Starsky & Hutch TV show. It allows you to laugh at it without making you feel embarrassed about having enjoyed it the first time round. That’s a good trick.