Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
The latest 1970s television show to be turned into a feature film,
"Starsky & Hutch" attempts to recreate the loose, fun, jokey vibe
of 2000's "Charlie's Angels." Under the helm of uneven director Todd
Phillips (2002's very bad "Old School"), however, this update lacks
the filmmaking ingenuity, style, energy, and freshness that director
McG brought to that surprise breakout hit. "Starsky & Hutch" comes
off as a pale imitation, rarely funny and never involving, whose sole
charm comes from the likable team-up of Ben Stiller (2004's "Along
Came Polly") and Owen Wilson (2004's "The Big Bounce").
Retaining the '70s era and setting of Bay City, "Starsky & Hutch"
takes its dramatic, albeit cheesy, source material and turns it into
a sort of spoof of generic police shows. The narrative, which takes
the barest of plots to simply hang a string of vignettes upon, concerns
new cop partners Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Hutch (Owen Wilson) as
they investigate a body found floating in the bay. Starsky and Hutch
are the unlikeliest of pairs—Starsky with his permed hai rdo and over-the-top,
uptight professionalism, and Hutch a real smooth operator and ladies'
man—but they soon form a tight friendship. Their investigative work
ultimately leads them to Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), a crooked family
man whom they believe is planning a drug deal with a new odorless
cocaine he has created. And in their spare time, Starsky and Hutch
find themselves romancing luscious cheerleaders Holly (Carmen Electra)
and Staci (Amy Smart).
In recent interviews, writer-director Todd Phillips has openly spoke
about his falling-out with Dreamworks Pictures, the distributor of
his previous two films. Apparently, he is upset because they were
advertising the current "Eurotrip" to seem as if he, who made 2000's
similar "Road Trip," was involved in its production. Instead of getting
angry over a movie he has not seen, Phillips migh t be wise to view
"Eurotrip" and take some notes on how to make a genuinely funny film.
If anything, it is certainly more successful as a comedy (not to mention
far wittier) than "Old School" or "Starsky & Hutch" are. This latest
project proves once again that Phillips lacks the creative flourishes
that set apart promising filmmakers from the hack ones. And he also
has no idea how to tell a complete story and keep the pacing fast
and tight. Instead of involving his viewers in the story and characters,
he is content to play out half-witted skits free of urgency and cohesion.
Not to beat a dying horse, but Todd Phillips also has a way of gathering
together a great cast and then wasting almost all of their talents
to an embarrassing degree. He gives his recurring supporting players,
filled out by such fine actors as Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, a
nd Amy Smart (the former two were in "Old School," the latter in "Road
Trip"), nothing meaty to do, no real character to play, and basically
flushes their proven comic abilities down the toilet. And in the case
of consistently underused Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis, who plays
Reese's flighty, upbeat mistress, Kitty, and garners the bulk of laughs
to be found in the film, Phillips does not even respect her enough
to give closure to her character. A throwaway, blink-and-you'll-miss-it
bit concerning Kitty during the end credits simply does not satisfy.
It's the lazy way out, and it is a path Phillips more often than not takes.
With these things said, the saviors of "Starsky & Hutch" are Ben Stiller
and Owen Wilson, delightful in the lead roles and comfortable in playing
off of each other. Stiller adeptly invokes Starsky with an earnest,
eager-t o-please demeanor that belies his own unrecognized nerdiness.
He is especially good in a scene in which he unknowingly ingests cocaine
and starts tripping from the drug. Wilson is just as good, giving
his Hutch a laid-back suaveness that he either doesn't know he has,
or just coolly takes in stride. Wilson's best moment is played off
of the invaluable Will Ferrell (2003's "Elf"), in a cameo as a jail
inmate with weird fetishes involving dragons and bellybuttons. Snoop
Dogg (2001's "The Wash"), who has never convinced me as an actor,
also surprises with his likable character of Huggy, a police informant
who apparently pimps on the side.
For a while, "Starsky & Hutch" diverts the viewer's attention with
the easy rapport of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and a happening soundtrack
of classic and not-so-classic '70s tunes. Hope for a worthwhile 97
minutes soon evaporates, however, as it becomes apparent director
Todd Phillips and co-screenwriters John O'Brien and Scot Armstrong
have failed to craft solid, memorable material worthy of his actors.
The majority of the humor falls flat, the pacing holds no true momentum,
and passing entertainment value turns to frustration before the first
hour is up. By all accounts and standards, "Starsky & Hutch" is just
a forgettable retread of a TV show most people have long since forgotten
about. Todd Phillips could afford to learn a thing or two from "Charlie's
Angels" director McG. He could even benefit from rookie "Eurotrip"
filmmaker Jeff Schaffer.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman