STARSKY & HUTCH
***1/2 (out of 5)
March 5, 2004
Ben Stiller as DAVID STARSKY
Owen Wilson as KEN HUTCHINSON
Snoop Dogg as HUGGY BEAR
Vince Vaughn as REESE FELDMAN
Jason Bateman as FRIDAY
Will Farrell as BIG EARL
Directed by: Todd Phillips
BY KEVIN CARR
When you think of the top ten television shows up the 1970s, “Starsky & Hutch” probably won’t make that list. It probably wouldn’t even make the top 25 shows. Top 100, maybe, but then again, it’d be listed with shows like “The Love Boat” and “The Ropers.”
But, if Hollywood is going to make a big-budget film like “S.W.A.T.” (also based on a weak 70s cop show), then why not “Starsky & Hutch”?
In this new film version, David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is a die-hard cop who always tries to do things right. Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is also a cop, but prefers to bend the rules as much as possible. They are partnered up and stumble upon a drug ring run by Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). Although Starsky and Hutch screw up so much they’re taken off the case, they make it their mission to bring down Feldman.
I’m a purest when it comes to the script. I believe that is where the heart of a movie lies. It’s the most important thing. And nothing infuriates me more than when a filmmaker (whether it be a studio exec planning for the next summer blockbuster or an indie director planning to tell his life story) belittles the necessity for a good script.
Now, I’ve chosen my words carefully on this. I think “script” is the most important thing in a film. Usually, that means “story” – but not always. If you’re talking drama or thriller or science fiction, story is primary. But in comedy, the rules are different. There are some excellent films out there that are pretty weak on story. How good would “Blazing Saddles,” “Airplane” and pretty much anything from Monty Python be if all the laughs are taken out?
Sometimes, comedies don’t have enough laughs to stand on, and they find themselves with their pants down about 2/3 through the film. “Office Space” is the quintessential example of this. The movie had all the making of a great comedy, but the second Jennifer Aniston showed up in a scene to help along the plot, the movie deteriorated. “Office Space” would have been so much better if they dumped the attempt at telling a story and just made the movie a series of gags.
This is the way I felt about “Starsky & Hutch.” There are some really funny things in this film. Ben Stiller is dead-on with his cheesy rendition of Paul Michael Glaser – especially his ridiculous pansy run. Will Farrell is awesome as usual as the freakish prisoner with a dragon fetish. And Snoop Dogg seems to have been born to play Huggy Bear. But the main stumbling block for “Starsky & Hutch” was that the filmmakers seemed obligated to tell a story.
“Starsky & Hutch” tells its story in the 1970s, rather than updating the movie to modern day. While this can be fun, there were so many missed opportunities for 70s gags. The only fully realized 70s gag was a bizarre disco battle between Starsky and what looked to be Herod from “The Passion of the Christ.”
Ultimately, the 70s retro feel could have been done much better. It could have been serious, as in “Boogie Nights,” or it could have been over-the-top how “Austin Powers” represented the 1960s. However, until Vince Vaughn shows up on screen with his hilarious 70s perm, you forget that it is a period piece.
Unfortunately, “Starsky & Hutch” tries to be nostalgic to a television show that really kinda stunk. Sure, it was on for five years, but “Starsky & Hutch” was never considered a great in television history. Even “The Brady Bunch,” while a painfully saccharine show, is a 70s icon the same way the freaks at a carnival are main attractions.
“Starsky & Hutch” is a far cry from Todd Phillips last screwball comedy, “Old School.” Part of this comes from the way the movie aims for a PG-13 rating rather than go all out for the R with nudity and sex jokes.
As usual, Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller work well together. They always work well together. So, if you’re a fan of the two, it’s worth seeing. I like both actors, which let me forgive the movie more than most. Still “Starsky & Hutch” is no “Zoolander.” But at least it doesn’t have Jackie Chan in it.