Starsky & Hutch

Mildly surreal take on the legendary cops chock full of top performances.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Mar 2004 by Scott Morris
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There's growing to be a strange familiarity about Ben Stiller movies these days, either by his continual collaborations with the same groups of actors, writers and directors or by playing fairly similar characters in most of his output. Were it anyone other than Stiller we might be getting antsy by this point, but if he can continue giving us such highly polished and deeply funny efforts as Starsky & Hutch he'll hear no complaints from this corner.

Stiller steps into the tight jeans of Bay City cop David Starsky, for whom there is no minor infraction, no theft that's petty. As a result of his single minded dedication to total justice he's regarded as a bit of an uptight asshole by his fellow cops, particularly Manetti (Chris Penn in his seemingly annual cameo) and Captain Doby (Fred Williamson). After one too many shootouts at crowded interchanges over a trivial purse-snatching he's hauled over the coals by Doby. At much the same time the laid back Ken 'Hutch' Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is questioned over a serious of 'undercover' robberies he's been pulling of late and despite their mutual lack of respect for each other, Doby assigns them as partners. Thus the legend is born again.

Every cop tale needs a legitimate businessman to go after, in this case provided by Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) whose legitimate business has just created a new and entirely legitimate form of cocaine, one with no coke scent and no coke taste making it undetectable by sniffer dogs. A lucrative venture, but one that's threatened when the dynamic duo find a washed up corpse that's linked to Feldman's enterprises. Hot on the trail and hampered only by their own ineptitude they go about taking the bad guy down. Eventually.

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The evidence trail is a tortuous one, but as it produces some fine comedy moments along the way that's all good. As is always the case in Stiller's movies of late there's an insanely great supporting cast for the proceedings, including a surprisingly proficient and funny turn from Snoop Dogg as the information collection operative Huggy Bear and his troop of trivia loving bodyguards. Will Ferrell reunites the Zoolander leads with his appearance as Big Earl, an incarcerated biker with a disturbing penchant for dragons. Eye candy is provided in ample quantities with Amy Smart and Carmen Electra's cheerleading love interests.

Initial news of this Starsky & Hutch remake was met with, well, we'd be lying if we said anything other than mild indifference from this corner. Certainly in the wake of the Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle debacle hopes were not stratospheric, but happily those doubts are dispelled. The production team is largely comprised of veterans from the utterly acceptable Old School, chiefly director/screenwriter Todd Phillips. Wisely he's chosen not to make this update either an attempted carbon copy or an out and out piss-take of the still fondly remembered original series. Taking the meat and bones of the original, he straps on a light hearted comedy chassis with some immaculate leftfield detailing that seems to laugh with, rather than at the characters David Soul and Paul Michael "The Running Man" Glaser embodied back in the mists of time.

While plotwise Starsky and Hutch are played for laughs and hardly come off looking like hard-boiled Supercops, they're also given rather endearing doses of humanity that make them a lot easier to care about than the casts of many serious cop dramas, such as S.W.A.T., for one of many examples. While an added bonus, it's not really the gist of the movie. It's a comedy, and for our tuppence worth it's a damn funny one.

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Wilson and Stiller quickly fall back into the same comfortable rapport they established in Zoolander as easily as they slip into the leather jackets, perms and Ford Grand Torino. We're almost growing bored of how good these guys are, whether it's individually or as a pairing. Impeccable timing, flawless delivery, bundles of charisma and importantly a sharp script to work off. Vaughn provides the necessary mix of ruthless efficiency and contempt, adding twists to what is at heart a stock bad guy character. Ferrell is reliably unconventional as the scene stealing Big Earl and Snoop Dogg is used to perfection as the groovy gangland godfather, never outstaying his welcome showing wise pacing and editing decisions from Phillips.

Kudos too for picking up perhaps the most anally retentive 'goof' listing in the mighty database, namely "In the disco, the microphone used by the DJ/Announcer is a Shure Beta58 (as distinguished by the blue band around the windscreen and the grey color of the body). The Beta58 was not introduced until 1989". If whoever submitted this would like to step forward and claim their prize, and perhaps a life while they're at it we'd be grateful. It's this level of petty and inane nitpicking that's made the internet what it is today. Hoorah.

It's a film of moments, from Snoop's caddying to dodging Korean knife throwers to Stiller's undercover disguise complete with it's own ready made catchphrase. Humour is a notoriously fickle mistress, and no doubt many of the films funniest and most memorable moments as far as we're concerned may prove unappealing to those with more mainstream sensibilities. However, Starsky & Hutch remains only very slightly leftfield of the mainstream and it ought to have a huge appeal over a huge market and deeply deserves it's success. It's not the sort of overarching masterpiece of plot development, but as a series of deeply funny moments there are few better.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Todd Phillips
Cast list:
Ben Stiller (David Starsky)
Owen Wilson (Ken Hutchinson)
Snoop Dogg (Huggy Bear)
Fred Williamson (Captain Doby)
Vince Vaughn (Reese Feldman)
Will Ferrell (Big Earl)
Chris Penn (Manetti)
Har Mar Superstar (Dancin' Rick)