Starsky and Hutch Review
Starsky And Hutch recreates the cop shows of the seventies with as much care and affection as Austin Powers recreated sixties spy movies. It doesn't settle for showing us funky people with afros, wide collars and bright green bell bottoms dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band, it finds nostalgic humour in minute background details from apartment furniture to the portable radios of the time. Time and thought have been lavished on every set, costume and soundtrack choice. If this was otherwise the worst movie ever made, it would still be a pleasure to look at and listen to. Happily it's the best mainstream comedy I've seen in a long time. Its only mistake is to outstay its welcome by a few minutes, a criticism I could make about nearly every film I've seen this year. Even in the few scenes that appear unnecessary or don't quite work, there's always something to enjoy.
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson play Dave Starsky and Ken Hutchinson not as parodies of the characters played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, which would have been limiting and alienated viewers unfamiliar with the show, but as general send-ups of Hollywood cops. Starsky is the hard-nosed, crime-hating type - Dirty Harry with a perm - while Hutch is his laid-back opposite, a guy for whom the law is more of a general guideline. Their obligatory angry black captain (seventies blaxploitation star Fred Williamson) decides that the best way to keep them out of trouble is to make them work together and thus is born the least fearsome crime-fighting team in Bay City. Stiller and Wilson have appeared together several times before, most memorably as rival male models in Zoolander and they play off each other brilliantly, Stiller's highly-strung nerd a perfect foil for Wilson's spaced-out surfer dude.
The plot is played fairly straight. You could imagine the real Starsky and Hutch investigating the same case. A criminal's body washed up on the beach leads the bickering duo to wealthy businessman Reese Feldman (the great Vince Vaughn), who is secretly the biggest drug kingpin in the city. To nail him, the boys enlist the help of Hutch's underground informant, the indescribably cool Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg, who was born for the part). After hours, they prove their dedication to duty by dating a couple of witnesses who just happen to be horny cheerleaders (Amy Smart and Carmen Electra). You may also recognise Juliette Lewis as Feldman's airhead girlfriend, Will Ferrell as a perverted convict with a soft spot for Hutch and, as a rival cop, Chris Penn, who looks like he's spent the twelve years since Reservoir Dogs at the pie shop.
Director Todd Phillips, who previously made Road Trip and Old School, gets the tone exactly right from the start (almost a serious crime movie but not quite), he sets an easy, buoyant pace and gives his stars plenty of room to improvise. Many of the best moments are throwaway bits, like the expression on Owen Wilson's face when a cheerleader he's interviewing blithely strips naked in front of him. There are very, very few people who can get laughs that big with just a facial expression. Much mileage is also gotten from moments we've always wanted to see in a cop movie, like when the maverick detective offers the captain his badge and gun and the captain says ok, he'll take them. The big comic setpieces work splendidly, the highlight being the double date with the cheerleaders that goes awry when Ben Stiller innocently puts cocaine in his coffee. Incidentally this scene is responsible for the 15 certificate. Are there still 12-year-olds who don't know what cocaine is?
Comedy directors rarely get the credit they deserve. When a film is funny, it's usually the stars and the writers who win the praise. Without taking anything away from Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and co-writers John O'Brien and Scot Armstrong, it's Todd Phillips' painstaking attention to detail and mastery of tone that makes Starsky And Hutch the film it is. Saturday night popcorn movies this good are few and far between.