Starsky & Hutch (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The mining of old television shows continues, and, while one wouldn't expect much from a movie version of the vintage late-1970s TV cop series, Starsky and Hutch, this is one time when the filmmakers have uncovered some surprisingly rich ore. The key to the film's success is that it uses the burned out premise as the springboard for a comedy, not an action flick. Rather than updating the idea and playing it straight, as in S.W.A.T., Starsky and Hutch takes its cue from The Brady Bunch Movie and veers into the realm of satire. However, while The Brady Bunch Movie lost momentum because it was essentially a one-joke concept, Starsky and Hutch manages to be just funny enough to remain entertaining for its entire 95-minute running length.

All the elements of the TV series are in evidence. Dave Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) are the Felix and Oscar of undercover police work in Bay City. Where Starsky is buttoned-down, straight-laced, and by-the-book, Hutch tends to view rules more as guidelines. Roaming the streets in a red 1974 Ford Torino, the pair gets help from their reliable snitch, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), as they seek to bring down drug kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), a seemingly civic-minded family man who has developed a strain of cocaine that foils normal detection methods.

The nuts and bolts of the plot don't much matter; the story is just an excuse for Stiller and Wilson to lampoon the one-time TV icons and have fun splashing around in their lagoon of '70s excess. The satire is gentle and genial, but unmistakable, with lots of affection for the television version. Starsky faces off in a disco dance-off with a John Travolta wannabe. Hutch croons "Don't Give Up On Us Baby," which was a #1 pop song in 1977 when sung by David Soul (the TV Hutch). We gets lots of '70s songs and schtick, and nearly all of it works to good comedic effect. Even the usually annoying Vince Vaughn (as the bad guy) and Juliette Lewis (as his vacuous wife) aren't tiresome in this setting.

The director is Todd Phillips, whose resume includes Road Trip and Old School. The same kind of humor is in evidence here that characterized those earlier outings, although Starsky and Hutch's PG-13 rating forces Phillips to tone things down a little. Nevertheless, there are times when he pushes the envelope - a girl/girl kiss between Carmen Electra and Amy Smart, Starsky and Hutch interviewing a naked woman (seen from behind), and Starsky going off on a cocaine binge. Old School alumnist Will Ferrell joins fellow graduate Vaughn. (Ferrell plays a con with a penchant for odd, homoerotic fetishes - one of which Starsky and Hutch have to act out in order to get a valuable piece of information.)

Stiller and Wilson have fun playing the two detectives. Each employs a different style (as befits the characters). Stiller's approach is to overplay everything, while Wilson comes across as relaxed. The contrast is effective. Meanwhile, Snoop Dogg adds a little spice to the mix dressed up as Huggy Bear in a pimp suit. On a per minute basis, he gets more laughs than Stiller or Wilson. The original Starsky and Hutch, Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, have brief cameos. I always appreciate it when a movie remake brings back the surviving stars of a TV series - it shows a touch of class. Going into the film, I was of the opinion that, of all the '70s TV shows I might like to see on the big screen, Starsky and Hutch wasn't on the list. A laugh-filled hour and a half later, I was happy that the film had proven me wrong.

Starsky & Hutch (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2004-03-05
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Drugs, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1