Starsky & Hutch


Laura Clifford 
Starsky & Hutch
Robin Clifford 
'Arch your back and look back over your shoulder mean, like a dragon.'
                                                                                                                Big Earl

Laura:
Dave Starsky (Ben Stiller, "Along Came Polly") is a straight arrow cop who believes in delivering on the job in return for his good salary.  Ken Hutchinson (Owen Wilson, "The Big Bounce") is a laid back party animal who thinks his low pay justifies shady side jobs (like robbery).  Disgusted by Starsky's expensive antics recovering a stolen purse containing six dollars, Captain Dobey (Fred Williamson, "Original Gangstas") gives him an unlikely partner.  With the aid of snitch Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg, "Malibu's Most Wanted"), the duo who seem to succeed in spite of themselves are "Starsky & Hutch."

I never really watched the 1970's "Starsky & Hutch" television series, so I cannot attest to the movie's referential veracity.  What I can say is that director Todd Phillips ("Old School") has a flair for silly guy humor, Stiller and Wilson's opposing approaches to comedy are perfectly paralleled in their casting here and the 70's come alive again via fondue, AMC Pacers and Barry Manilow.  "Starsky & Hutch" isn't an out and out laugh riot, but it is enough fun to leave a smile on your face.

After discovering a body floating in the bay (which Hutch wants to nudge out to sea), the duo begin an investigation which will lead them to wealthy Bay City businessman Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn, "Old School") who is about to pull off the biggest drug deal in the city's history. He's developed a 'New Coke,' an undetectable cocaine that tastes sweet.  In order to pin Feldman to the crime, Starsky and Hutch go undercover as "Easy Rider's" Billy and Wyatt to meet Big Earl (Will Ferrell, "Elf"), wire Huggy as Feldman's faux caddy, appear as mimes for Reese's daughter's Bat Mitzvah and, most distressingly, force themselves to date cheerleaders Holly (Amy Smart, "The Butterfly Effect") and Staci (Carmen Electra, "My Boss's Daughter") who may have information.

Stiller's wired intensity combusts paired with Wilson's stoner charm, most hilariously when exaggerated by Starsky's accidental ingestion of cocaine during a double date.  When he flames out, Hutch is left with double the pleasure.  Stiller's physical ability to flail around while still holding his body like a clenched fist perfectly serves his nerdy dancing, jogging, criminal chasing and propensity for accidentally shooting harmless animals.  Starsky's 1974 red and white Ford Gran Torino is a muscle car metaphor for his own pent up energy.  Wilson's good looks and 'What me worry?' vibe are catnip to the ladies and gasoline to fuel Stiller's fire.  His comfort with whatever's going on about him heightens the hilarity - watch his eyes drop and hold on a disrobing woman while Stiller agonizes averting his gaze.  Wilson also gets a hippie dippie musical number, accompanying himself on guitar for David Soul's 1977 #1 hit "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby," which he may or may not be addressing to Starsky.

Vaughn uses the same brand of daring deadpan that he brought to "Old School's" anarchy, replacing that character's underlying friendly affection with lethal determination and still making it comical.  Will Ferrell's surprise appearance has major payoffs when his jailed Big Earl makes the most unusual kinds of demands in return for information (stick around for the closing credit outtakes for more).  Snoop Dogg is a natural parading around in the over the top pimp duds of the era's Blaxploitation flicks, but he's even funnier when stripped down to his skivvies and gartered socks getting a full sized microphone taped to his chest.  In a tiny bit, Dan Finnerty ("Old School") explores all the cheese of a tuxedoed Bat Mitzvah Singer for hire, adding loads of atmosphere.  Unfortunately the talented Juliette Lewis ("Cold Creek Manor") is reduced to the 'other woman' bimbo role and cameos by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul do little but check off the good sport requirement.

Screenwriters John O'Brien ("Cradle 2 the Grave"), Todd Phillips ("Old School") and Scot Armstrong ("Old School") give new meaning to the phrase good cop/bad cop with their affectionate jab at "Starsky & Hutch" and Stiller and Wilson are a perfectly mismatched pair.

B- 

Robin:
It has been nearly 30 years since two cops in their souped up, red 1974 Gran Torino tore up the city streets to hunt down and arrest the bad guys. Now, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson reprise the roles as they go after a drug kingpin who has invented undetectable cocaine in “Starsky and Hutch.”

I was never a fan of the 70’s crime buster series starring Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul as the title characters. But, I am familiar enough with the “Starsky and Hutch” TV show and its characters to appreciate the updated version starring Stiller and Wilson. Besides the title players, we get, once again, the cherry red (with huge white racing stripes) Ford muscle car and, of course, Huggy Bear (played with aristocratic bearing by Snoop Dogg).

It’s 70’s Bay City and tight ass undercover cop Dave Starsky (Stiller) lives in the shadows of his deceased veteran police officer mom. She had the same partner for 22 years but Starsky has been through a dozen in his four years on the job and his boss, Captain Doby (Fred Williamson), is growing tired of his high maintenance detective.

Ken “Hutch” Hutchison (Wilson) is the diametric opposite of Starsky and is not beyond bending (read: breaking) the law for his own gain. Captain Doby decides that this loose cannon of a cop is the perfect replacement partner for stickler Starsky and the two are teamed together – like it or not. Of course, uptight Starsky, the poster child of a straight arrow cop, is taken aback by the cavalier, loosie goosie attitude of Hutch, especially when he meets his partner’s shady colleague Huggy Bear. Huggy, after a guns drawn confrontation between his body guards and Starsky, explains that he is not a snitch for Hutch but an “urban informant.”

Huggy Bear puts the dynamic duo onto a big drug deal being brokered by the nefarious Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), who is preparing to import a huge quantity of altered cocaine – undetectable to drug sniffing dogs. Feldman is putting the finishing touches on his deal with seven of the most powerful drug dealers in Bay City and stands to make astronomical sums. But, Starsky and Hutch, armed with Huggy’s information, are on Reese’s trail and they won’t let go.

Director Todd Phillips takes the screenplay-by-committee (with the helmer, John O’Brien and Scot Armstrong credited with the script of the story by O’Brien and Stevie Long) and attempts to capitalize on the screen chemistry between his stars. Stiller and Owen were priceless together in the very amusing “Zoolander” and this compatibility continues in “Starsky and Hutch.” But, the filmmakers rely too much on the previous movie’s laugh factor and directly reprise such elements as a dance-off that is much like the runway walk-off and, again, the stars getting made up in disguises. (Although I had to chuckle when Stiller puts on his pushy persona and demand of his cheerleader girlfriends (Carmen Electra and Amy Smart), “Give us a kiss. Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it!”)

The typical formulaic handling of the by the numbers screenplay is tempered, as I said, with the on-screen chemistry of the stars but there is also a small diamond in the rough performance by Will Ferrel. Big Earl runs a biker bar and is currently in the slammer. When Starsky and Hutch question him, he’ll only answer if they put on a little show for him. Earl may only have brief screen time but the comedian/actor captures the funny moments every time. Vince Vaughn doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before and Fred Williamson travels from the clichéd pissed off captain to some old plain silliness. Juliet Lewis, as Reese’s “daytime girlfriend” Kitty, gets nothing and does nothing. What has happened to this promising actress? Electra and Smart are here for the T&A factor only.

Techs, thankfully, are better than a TV show with attention being paid to the technologies of the 70’s. In one amusing scene, Huggy is wired with a hidden microphone that makes you appreciate just how small electronic gear has become in a scant 30 years. That red 1974 Ford Gran Torino still stands the test time as a memorable TV icon.

“Starsky and Hutch” is a bit of amusing 70’s nostalgia that is a good vehicle for its stars. Watch for the homage paid to David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. I give it a B-.

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