A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, PG-13, 98 mins.

Dave Starsky: Ben Stiller / Ken Hutchinson: Owen Wilson / Reese Feldman: Vince Vaughn / Kitty: Juliette Lewis / Huggy Bear: Snoop Dogg / Capt. Dobey: Fred Williamson / Holly: Amy Smart / Staci: Carmen Electra

Directed by Todd Phillips /  Written by Phillips, William Blinn, Stevie Long, John O'Brien and Scot Armstrong

Okay, let's be absolutely honest here dear readers - television sucks.  I think that I can only count a small select handful of programs on one or two hands that were definitive small screen gems that transcended the medium. 

The 1970’s cop buddy show STARSKY AND HUTCH was not one of them.  What was then seen as gritty and atmospheric is today seen as campy and laughably bad.  It's sometimes wonderful how some shows age so heinously.  I find it equally refreshing that director Todd Phillips thankfully decided to make the 2004 STARSKY AND HUTCH film an all-out comedy. 

 Wise choice indeed, Mr. Phillips. 

Phillips has made a few very, very funny films (ROAD TRIP was an adequate to seriously funny film and his most recent, OLD SCHOOL, was a gut-wrenchingly hilarious exercise in demonstrating just how far a certain Mr. Will Ferrell would go to get a laugh; you almost have to respect his tenacity and willingness).  STARSKY AND HUTCH will not go down as his best, most humor-filled work, but it's definitely got some huge laughs. 

The plot is fairly paint-by-numbers, genuinely pedestrian and predictable (but hey, then again, so was the original series).  The film follows the exploits of Dave Starksy (Ben Stiller), Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) as they meet, team up unwillingly at first, and go after notorious drug kingpin Resse Feldman (Vince Vaughn).  Starsky and Hutch cruise in their ultra cool Ford Torino (classically recreated to be an exact duplicate of the vehicle from the 70’s show) and often seek the aid of an informant named Huggy Bear, played by none other than Snoop Dog.  You see, Feldman and his cronies have created a new cocaine that recreates the high that can be experienced by regular cocaine.  The only difference is that this cocaine can’t be detected by Police dogs.  Feldman refers to his product in a way that would make Dr. Evil proud. 

It’s the “New Coke".  Hee-hee. 

This film clearly is not about plot or story.  It's about laughs and consistently presenting them to us.  Casting Stiller and Wilson together was a stroke of genius.  This is their 6th film together (the last being the underrated and very funny ZOOLANDER) and they have firmly established a very familiar routine that has cemented them as the best comedy duo of our generation.  They are the Hope and Crosby and Martin and Lewis of the new Millennium. 

Stiller is a master of the understated and social awkward reaction.  He’s a straight arrow that always plays by the rules, but always fails miserably (remember the cat in MEET THE PARENTS?) and Wilson is the cool, sardonic, and free spirit.  They are a wonderful foil to one another, and their chemistry and naturally underplayed personalities make for big laughs.  Whereas Starsky will hunt down a man who stole a purse with 6 bucks in it, Hutch is the cop who will push away a dead body they find in a lake at a crime scene in hopes that it will “float to another prescient.” 

The film wisely does not rely completely on laughs from Stiller and Wilson.  Will Ferrell shows up in a hilarious cameo as an informant in prison who makes Starsky and Hutch do things to each other for information that they would have not thought necessary (“Bend back slowly, turn your head, and look mean like a dragon,” deadpans Ferrell).  Vaughn (who was terrifically winning in SWINGERS and MADE) is equally funny with wonderful throwaway lines (“No one dresses like a mime and comes to my baby daughter’s birthday party and shoots her pony and gets away with it!”).  The film’s big laughs also come at the expense of Starsky’s Ford Torino, which the duo uses in a stunt at the end of the film that pays off in the film’s greatest laugh. 

Todd Phillips may upset fans of the original “gritty” series with this parade of pratfalls and satirical humor.  Yet, this film would have been a failure if it were not a spoof.  The film is so goofy and primitive that it lends itself well to comedy.  I also think he made the right choice by still having it set in the disco heavy 70’s (the period design is actually quite sensational, and actually provides some of the films bigger and more subtle laughs – “That’s me in the tight jeans and oversized sweater,” Stiller explains in a voice over at the beginning of the film).  Also, having it set to the period also gives Stiller a chance for yet another overly awkward and hilarious dance scene, this time in a disco boogie-off (this is becoming his trademark - he did a dance-off in ZOOLANDER, and salsa-danced his way to big laughs in ALONG CAME POLLY).  There is also an inspired scene where Wilson picks up a guitar and starts singing a 70’s chart stopper by David Soul (the original Hutch) and Starsky - who is in an accidental “New Coke stupor” - sees psychedelic birds chirping on Hutch” shoulder. 

As a comedy and a send up, STARSKY AND HUTCH is very funny and it proudly showcases two of the best comedic talents working in films today.  It has the necessary chemistry of the two leads to pay off successfully, but it also has the right period detail and funny supporting performances to make the film a pleasurable romp overall.  After a series of wonderfully droll films under their resume (Stiller: THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, MEET THE PARENTS, and ALONG CAME POLLY and Wilson: ZOOLANDER, THE ROYAL TENNABAUMS, THE SHANGHAI NOON SERIES) Stiller and Wilson will be names that I will whole-heartedly look forward to seeing in a cinema in the near future.

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