Two streetwise undercover cops in the fictional city of Bay City, California in the 1970s, bust drug criminals with the help of underworld boss, Huggy Bear. The film functions as a sort of prequel to the TV series, as it portrays when Starsky was first partnered with Hutchinson. The film also switches the personalities of the title characters. While in the TV show, Starsky was curious and streetwise, and Hutch was by-the-book, in the film, Starsky is the serious cop, and Hutch is laid-back. There are four Frat Pack members in this film, although not all are in major roles.
The movie takes place in the 1970s. The story centres around two cops who work for the Bay City Police Department. Detective David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is a loud, macho acting cop who loves his Ford Gran Torino, and recklessly pursues people for minor offenses, and Detective Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson (Owen Wilson), is a cool easy-going cop, who sometimes actually works alongside criminals, claiming to be undercover, to investigate their activity. The two cops are made partners, almost as punishment for their recent shenanigans. Meanwhile, Jewish-American drug kingpin, Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), and his partner-in-crime, Kevin Jutsum (Jason Bateman), are planning to bring in a shipment of drugs worth millions of dollars. They have developed a new type of cocaine which is untraceable in scent and taste. When Feldman finds out that one of his drug pushers failed a drug transport operation, he kills him and leaves the body in the ocean.
Starsky and Hutch are called to the scene where the body of the murdered pusher washes up a few days later. A clue from the dead man leads them to Feldman's house for questioning. Feldman denies any knowledge of the crime and states his regret for the man's death, but his wife mentions that the pusher had been dating a cheerleader. During questioning Hutch admires Feldman's boat, to which Feldman replies "It's a yacht." After meeting cheerleaders, Stacey (Carmen Electra) and Holly (Amy Smart), they learn from another cheerleader, Heather (Brande Roderick), that a jacket worn by the dead pusher was made by Big Earl (Will Ferrell). Their street-wise, underworld contact, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) directs the two to a motorcycle bar operated by Big Earl. Starsky and Hutch go undercover to the bar dressed as the characters "Captain America" and "Billy" from the film Easy Rider. Discovering Big Earl is in jail, they go to the prison to speak with Big Earl, who has connections with Feldman's drug business. Big Earl, who is implied to be gay and has an obsession with dragons, then makes the officers do embarrassing things to get what they want. He gives them a packet of what they think is cocaine. When it is taken to the lab for testing, Doby (Fred Williamson), their captain, angered and humiliated about their interview (which was caught on security camera) tells them it is 'artificial sweetener' and takes them off the floater assignment. The duo invite Stacy and Holly to Starsky's place where Starsky puts the 'sweetener' in his coffee while Hutch sings Don't Give Up on Us (the original of which was actually recorded by David Soul, the original "Hutch"). Starsky, Hutch, Stacey, and Holly go to a disco where Starsky, while suffering the effects of the drug, challenges an arrogant dancer to a dance off, and goes crazy when he loses. Hutch takes him home and proceeds to have a threesome with Holly and Stacey.
Feldman continues to be the main suspect of the duo's investigation, after they are assaulted by an Asian dealer and his knife-throwing son, and the dealer mentions that his boss "had a yacht." Further investigation leads them to believe that Feldman stores drugs in his garage, and during his daughter's Bat Mitzvah, they go undercover as mimes attempting to locate the drugs. After confronting Feldman, Starsky shoots the lock off the garage door, accidentally shooting and killing a pony inside. As a result, Captain Doby indefinitely suspends both of them. Starsky tries to cover for Hutch, but Doby reveals that Starsky had filed a complaint against Hutch weeks ago, right after they first became partners. Starsky tries to explain, but the partners argue, and it leads to a split in their friendship.
Meanwhile, Hutch's young neighbor, Willis (Jeffrey Lorenzo), whom Hutch watches on Wednesdays, is involved in a bomb blast in Hutch's house, and breaks his leg (the bomb was intended for Hutch). Starsky comes to visit Willis in the hospital where a "who's at fault" argument with Hutch, finally leads to reconciliation. They both decide to go after Feldman and put an end to his drug business. With help from Huggy Bear, who grudingly acts as a golf caddie for Reese, they learn that Feldman plans to sell the drugs at a charity ball by hiding them in Volkswagen Karmann Ghias to be given away to preplanned dope pushers.
The disguised duo manage to enter the party and hold up Feldman, pretending to be winners of a car. Upon shooting open the trunk of the car, a large amount of cocaine is found. Feldman takes Hutch hostage, and in Starsky's attempt to rescue him, he accidentally shoots Captain Doby in the shoulder. Hutch covers for Starsky telling Doby that Reese shot him. In the ensuing confusion, Feldman and his girlfriend Kitty (Juliette Lewis) escape outside with the money that was used to buy the drugs. Starsky and Hutch pursue them in a car chase over a golf course.
Feldman and Kitty then take off in his yacht hoping to escape the partners. Not far behind, Starsky and Hutch decide the only way to catch Feldman is to land Starsky's car onto Feldman's yacht, which Starsky is fearful to do. Starsky gets the car up to speed on a pier and then hits a ramp, but jumps way off course and misses the yacht. It slams into the sea and sinks as the partners safely escape. However all is not lost; Huggy, who was hiding in the yacht, knocks out Feldman, with the golf club that Reese had accused him of losing earlier.
In the last scene, at a party celebrating the capture of Feldman, Jutsum, and Kitty, Starsky is still upset about the loss of his car. Huggy surprises him by buying him another Gran Torino from the original Starsky and Hutch duo (David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser). The two happy cops roll out in their new car answering to the police radio.
Starsky & Hutch was met with positive reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 64% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 190 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The site's consensus reads: "It's uneven and occasionally somewhat aimless, but Starsky & Hutch benefits from Stiller and Wilson's chemistry and a surprisingly warm-hearted script." At the website Metacritic, which utilizes a normalized rating system, the film earned a rating of 55/100 based on 40 reviews by mainstream critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Roger Ebert awarded it 3/4. Ben Stiller earned a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actor, while Carmen Electra earned a nomination for Worst Supporting Actress.
In the film's opening weekend, it grossed $28,103,367 in 3,185 theaters. Starsky & Hutch has had gross receipts of $88,237,754 in the U.S. and Canada and $82,030,996 in international markets for a total of $170,268,750 worldwide.