I’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 (“Old School”), is surprisingly good. Even pretty damn good, if one was so inclined to work blue.
“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 cliché 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 cliché 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 afternoon delights.
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.
Todd Phillips (director) / William Blinn, Stevie Long, John O’Brien, Todd Phillips, Scot Armstrong (screenplay)
CAST: Ben Stiller …. David Starsky
Owen Wilson …. Ken Hutchinson
Snoop Dogg …. Huggy Bear
Fred Williamson …. Captain Doby
Vince Vaughn …. Reese Feldman
Jason Bateman …. Friday