A funny and thoroughly enjoyable spin on the overused cop-buddy formula, "Starsky and Hutch" is one of the most entertaining films of 2004 -- even if it's nothing more than just that.
With a fair share of laugh-out-loud moments, and more than a handful of in-joke references to '70s pop culture (including the original source material: "Starsky and Hutch" the TV show), it also boasts a fine comedic cast with talented performers: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Snoop Dogg, Chris Penn, Amy Smart and some uncredited cameos by the likes of Will Ferrell -- and yes, even the original Starsky and Hutch. But their shared appearance is one best left open. ("I get a good vibe from these guys," the younger Hutch exclaims in one of the film's most savory self-referential moments.)
The film takes place in Bay City, "sometime during the '70s," when David Starsky (Stiller) -- a by-the-numbers police officer who spends his entire day chasing small-time crooks -- is paired up with a new partner, the reckless Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Wilson). Starsky and Hutch don't get along at first -- their mixed personalities collide, resulting in uncomfortable tension. Placed on an assignment involving an alleged drug lord (Vaughn), who has managed to create undetectable cocaine, Starsky and Hutch find themselves in a number of awkward situations: getting a statement by Big Earl (Ferrell), a dragon-obsessed inmate with some major issues; the usual tidbits of information from Huggy Bear (Dogg), a friend and informant of Hutch's; and of course the mandatory romantic subplot involving a pair of sexy cheerleaders.
The contrast of Starsky and Hutch is handled deliberately blunt: this comedy isn't as much a victim of the cop-buddy genre as it is a dead-on spoof. Hutch is a self-described "realist" -- during his introductory sequence he is shown fleeing the scene of a robbery with a stash of money. We assume he is undercover, and that's what he tells the cops when they try to arrest him. However, he's just using his badge as an excuse to commit crimes -- and get away with them.
I asked myself if it was as possible as the film implies, but then the Constantly Yelling and/or Upset Police Captain (another clichéd role that happens to show up in all these movies) tells Hutch that it's the seventh time he's been arrested for robbery, and Hutch tells him that he's undercover -- trying to work his way in through the criminal underground. The joke, of course, is that we find out the robberies are all totally unrelated and bear no significant to a criminal underground of any kind.
There are a few sequences in the movie that deserve a description of their own, such as when Starsky accidentally consumes a large amount of cocaine and works himself into an ultimate-high-frenzy, battling on the disco floor of a nightclub for short-lived glory. After his opponent is unjustly awarded the gold medal, Starsky pulls out his gun and from there on the entire situation escalates into one of those scenes that -- like parts of Stiller's "There's Something About Mary" -- last on in viewers' minds even after the film itself fades away. The sort of sequence you might chuckle about to yourself as you drive home and recall certain moments from the film.
Stiller and Wilson -- presently two of Hollywood's most famous odd couples who have united together for a number of projects over the years -- are always likable in their films and nothing changes here. Wilson uses his sarcastic quips to an advantage, coming across as the smoother of the two, whereas Starsky is the bumbling and self-conscious idiot who is both over-protective and over-zealous.
The movie is at its best when it is cleverly satirizing the genre. Most of these films always include a sequence where the police captain will suspend the movie's protagonist and frown on him, saying something cheesy like, "Your father, who spent years on the force and was one of the highest-decorated officers, would be ashamed of you!" Instead, the police captain tells Starsky that his mother would be ashamed of him. And then after being suspended, Starsky takes a visit to his mother's grave and places a glazed donut on the headstone (she was the highly decorated cop in the family, apparently).
The film was directed by Todd Phillips, whose resume includes such raunchy efforts at comedy as the crude-but-enjoyable "Road Trip" and surprising "Old School." The latter film starred Ferrell and Vaughn and contained a cameo appearance by Snoop Dogg (as himself), so obviously these guys enjoyed working with Phillips and, I'm sure, agreed to contribute to this movie just for the heck of it.
The result is a very goofy, entertaining summer flick that never tries too hard and invariably never falls too hard, either. It does fall sometimes, but even then it usually takes its screw-ups with a pinch of salt. This is the sort of movie worth the price of admission -- just to sit back, forget your worries, and watch a couple of clowns bumble their way through an enjoyable farce of the '70s. It's not the kind of movie you'll be talking about after you see it -- just a simple popcorn flick. If you're out and about and you happen to stumble into a theater showing this film, you'll find your money well spent. I won't praise "Starsky and Hutch" for being a brilliant tongue-in-cheek spoof of the cop-buddy films -- I'll merely say that, for what it is, "Starsky and Hutch" is well-made and funny -- a surprisingly simple movie that is everything it pretends to be. The majority of films that use this approach suffer because they fall victim to their targets, especially most released this year, but where the others have failed "Starsky and Hutch" succeeds.
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