Starsky & Hutch

4 stars


6th September 2004

Pre-conceptions at the ready everyone, it's another needless remake of a seventies TV show that no one asked for, needs or is willing to tolerate. Or is it? While film purists may scoff at a big screen outing for the cardigan-wearing cops and claim it represents yet another nail in the coffin for original movie making, the rest of us can just rest easy, quit whining for an hour and a half and enjoy one of the best buddy cop movies of recent years. Starsky and Hutch, welcome back - we missed you.

Well, sort of. You see, being under 30 and all, I really have no notion of what exactly is being lampooned here, having never experienced the joys of a syndicated Starsky first-hand. What I do know, however, is that what director Todd Phillips and friends have done with Starsky 2004 is create a homage to the TV show, rather than take pot shots at it. There's no 'look how crap the 70's were' vibe here, just a throwback to days when it was acceptable to wear your collar up, your shirt open and your hair down. In order to do TV's most popular buddy cop pairing justice, good casting was essential for the movie to get off the ground, but with a little help from Hollywood's favourite self-loather and that wonky-nosed indie kid turned box office draw, Phillips has done the impossible - he's actually made Starsky and Hutch cool.

Phillips does his job admirably - his recent work has shown a tendency to rely on excellent comic actors rather than particularly good screenwriters - this is Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson's movie. Paired together as polar opposites, Stiller's Starsky as the uptight, rule-abiding cop and Wilson's Hutch as his fun-lovin' easy going partner, the duo start off investigating a murder and end up in the middle of the biggest drug deal Bay City has ever seen. Unlike the grating partnership of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the reprehensible Bad Boys movies, here Stiller and Wilson share genuine comic chemistry, with both players settling into their roles alarmingly easy (it's frightening how quickly the clothing begins to look normal). They are, quite simply, a comic monster (I call it Stillson) and they eat up the screen with little disregard for any other actors who happen to be sharing screen time. You could argue that there's little more than 30 minutes of actual plot here, complemented by countless meaningless sequences (would David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser really have had a dance-off in a nightclub?) but that would be missing the point - this is supposed to be a fun movie, not The Shield.

Thankfully then, the laughs come thick and fast and although all might not produce belly laughs, Starsky and Hutch is consistently funny and hits the mark more often than not. Stiller and Wilson provide genuine amusement in even the smallest exchanges, and the set-pieces are fast becoming Todd Phillips' trademark - he's already shown he's capable of pulling off top-drawer gags in Old School and Road Trip, and he succeeds again here. Highlights include Will Ferrell's cameo as the dragon loving inmate Big Earl, the knife-throwing Chinese kid ("That's not a kid, it's a tiny little man!") and Starsky's drug-laced coffee-fueled nightclub rampage. It might not stay true to the feel of the series, but the smile on your face will last long until the credits have finished rolling.

Padding out the rest of the cast is an impressive list of supporting players, including the always threatening Fred Williamson, the alluring pair of Carmen Electra and Amy Smart (who both have their own 'alluring pairs') and Snoop Dogg playing the role he was born for, the fur-sporting, gun-toting, bitch-pimping magnate, Huggy Bear. It's a shame then, that among such a great cast, perhaps the funniest man on celluloid, namely Vince Vaughn, is given a relatively tame role as villain Reece Feldman. No one plays an arrogant asshole like Vaughn - you get the feeling that Ricky Slade is still pissing someone off out there somewhere - but he's wasted here, not particularly evil, particularly nasty or particularly anything. A missed opportunity, but hopefully not one that will affect your enjoyment of the movie.

All in all, Starsky and Hutch kind of plays out like a male Charlie's Angels, but minus McG's trademark wanky effects shots and camera masturbation. It looks great, the leads are both on top form and are working for a confident director and the whole thing exudes a seventies cool that's hard to resist, all accentuated by a damn funky soundtrack. As far as your Saturday night popcorn movies go, it's very difficult and quite pointless to find fault in Starsky and Hutch so you might as well get used to it - on this evidence, Stillson will be back on sequel duty in no time.

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