American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
As Hollywood works its way through retreads of TV series from the 1960s and '70s, I find I can approach each project with a certain purity, since I never saw any of the original shows. Never saw a single "Starsky and Hutch." Not one episode of "I Spy." No "Mod Squad." No "Charlie's Angels." What was I doing instead, apart from seeing thousands of movies? Avoiding episodic television like a communicable disease and improving myself with the great literature of the ages. Plus partying.
So here is "Starsky & Hutch," adding the ampersand for a generation too impatient for "and." It's a surprisingly funny movie, the best of the 1970s recycling jobs, with one laugh ("Are you OK, little pony?") almost as funny as the moment in "Dumb and Dumber" when the kid figured out his parakeet's head was Scotch-taped on.
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson star, in their sixth movie together. They use the same comic contrasts that worked for Hope and Crosby and Martin and Lewis: One is hyper and the other is sleepy-eyed and cool. In a genial spoof of the cop buddy genre, they're both misfits on the Bay City police force. Starsky (Stiller) is the kind of cop who would ask another cop if he had a license for his firearm. Hutch (Wilson) has done nothing useful at all for months, aside from enriching himself illegally by stealing from dead bodies. Their captain (Fred Williamson) thinks they deserve each other and makes them partners in a scene where Hutch immediately insults Starsky's perm.
The bad guy is Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), coils of cigarette smoke constantly rising in front of his face. He's a big-time cocaine dealer who has invented, or discovered, a form of cocaine that has no taste or smell and can fool police dogs. He's also a vicious boss who kills an underling in the opening scene and pushes him off his yacht. Discovery of the floater gives Starsky and Hutch their first big case, although they almost blow it, since Hutch's first suggestion is to push it back out to sea and hope it floats to the next precinct.