'm reasonably certain almost no one had anything nice to say when plans were
announced to remake "Starsky and Hutch", the popular '70s cop show,
into a feature length comedy starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Fortunately
for all involved, the result, in collaboration with director Todd Phillips
is surprisingly good. Even pretty damn good, if one was so inclined to work
"Starsky and Hutch" stars Ben Stiller as by the
book undercover Detective David Starsky, who is partnered up with irresponsible
and sometimes-crook Ken Hutchinson (Wilson) on the whim of their boss. After a
body floats in from the sea, the bickering cops come into contact with drug
kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), who has developed a new drug that tastes
like -- and can pass for -- sugar. In the course of the investigation, all the
usual Buddy Cop clichés come into play, but here you know it's all in service
of comedy, so that makes it more digestible.
Buddy Cop movies are so old hat nowadays that all that
could have been done with them has been done, so it takes a silly comedy like
"Starsky and Hutch" to make the clichés seem original again. Fred
Williamson, a veteran of '70s blaxploitation films (making his casting more than
just serendipity), plays Starsky and Hutch's superior, Captain Doby. As per his
archetype, Doby is eternally exasperated with both the uptight Starsky and the
not-really-interested-in-being-a-cop Hutch. Here, all his predictable actions
and ramblings come across as intentionally funny.
Most of "Starsky and Hutch" is good for some laughs, with Stiller
playing the downtrodden "joke of the movie" that he seems to play in
every movie I've seen him in. The ironic thing about Stiller getting typecast is
that he's a big star, and it's his choice to play these roles. If one was
so inclined, one could write a whole college term paper on why Stiller feels the
need to play the same role over and over of his own volition. The guy is always
the butt of a movie's joke, always getting things dumped on him -- verbally and
physically. It's gotta make you wonder...
While Stiller is playing Stiller, Wilson is playing Wilson
-- that is, the smartass who gets away with things just because he's blond and
talks with an easy draw. Both actors have been doing their respective roles for
so long, and in so many films, that it's second nature to them. But even the
stars' familiarity with their roles wouldn't have saved the movie if the script
was even just average. Luckily the writers have come to play with a bag full of
jokes. "Starsky and Hutch" is funny. And not just funny every now and
then, but funny for a lot of the movie.
"Starsky and Hutch" definitely has a lot of good
laughs in it. The scene where Starsky and Hutch crashes the pad of a Korean
assassin (played by a Chinese actor, natch) is one of the highlights. In it, the
cops end up getting pelted by knives thrown by the assassin's son, who nails the
cops pretty good. Although the movie's P.R. machine has made it a point to
mention the presence of rapper turned somewhat-decent actor Snoop Dogg as Huggy
Bear, Dogg really isn't anything to crow about. The funniest cameo belongs to
Will Ferrell ("Elf"), playing a con with a dragon fetish.
As the villain, Vince Vaughn works simply because he's one of those rare guys
that can naturally balance the aura of slime and charm at the exact same time.
Vaughn looks outrageously silly with the mustache, and even sillier attending
his daughter's bar mitzvah. The resurgent Jason Bateman plays Vaughn's nerdy
partner, but he's mostly lost in the background. Amy Smart ("The
Butterfly Effect") and all-around artificial girl Carmen Electra plays
Starsky and Hutch's love interests, although only Hutch gets to sample their
All you can hope for in a movie like "Starsky and
Hutch" is that it gives you more laughs than what's been shown in the
trailer. In that regard, the film succeeds in spades. You'll never be able to
say that about 90% of the "comedies" that comes out of Hollywood, so I
guess that makes "Starsky and Hutch" a rare exception.