Starsky & Hutch Movie Review
This charm may not be entirely expected. After all, it is (1) an adaptation of a 1970s cop show, (2) arriving maybe a decade after the peak of seventies nostalgia, (3) assembled by director-writer Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School), whose previous movies were only funny to the extent that the actors could overcome his aimless, slapdash staging (Will Ferrell, no problem; Breckin Meyer, less so).
To be sure, Starsky & Hutch doesn't have the flow or build of a truly great comedy. It is, as the credits put it, a Todd Phillips movie, so there isn't an intricate plot so much as a sure-fire concept. But the framework of a cheesy '70s cop show provides the minimal structure his movies have been lacking; Ben Stiller (Starsky, the uptight one) and Owen Wilson (Hutch, the laid-back one) do the rest.
The best decision Phillips has made is to allow the film, despite its cops and crooks, to proceed as a comedy, not an action picture with jokes; the few chases and shootouts aim squarely for humor, and pyrotechnics are at a strictly TV-ish level. It doesn't come off as yet another campy throwback so much as a subdued tribute.
Stiller and Wilson have appeared in several movies together, so even the fact that the screenplay, on its own, barely establishes their meeting, rivalry, and (of course) partnership doesn't much matter. In an early interrogation scene at a biker bar, the duo effortlessly switches from slapstick to verbal riffing. As they debate the aptness of underworld nicknames, you're not thinking about exactly why the interrogation is taking place (something about cocaine) but reminded, in the wake of disappointing films from both actors (Along Came Polly, The Big Bounce), just how funny this pair can be. Their dueling/dueting comic styles -- Stiller's flummoxed rage and Wilson's amiable detachment -- are perfect for the worn-out "buddy" formula. The actors are adept at striking both contrasts (most obviously in demeanor) and common ground, as they team up to discuss flirting strategy with some cheerleader chicks.
Those chicks, played by Amy Smart and Carmen Electra, highlight one of Phillips's remaining problems: His almost pathological refusal to let women be funny. There's a gaggle of terrific female performers on Saturday Night Live -- Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch -- who could've struck gold opposite Stiller and Wilson. Instead, we have Amy Smart with feathered hair, and the boys do all the work. Frat boy habits die hard.
But other supporting players like Old Schoolers Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell, as lead and supporting bad guys, enliven the scenes that don't feature the central cops, and Snoop Dogg, as informant Huggy Bear, does his part to nudge the movie toward actual, non-winking cool. I smiled a lot, especially at Starsky's gung-ho running style, and a scene I will refer to only as "the part with the knives" made me laugh harder than I have at a movie in months.
Starsky & Hutch, then, is exactly the sum of its parts. It's less inspired on a conceptual level than Zoolander, the other major Stiller-Wilson collaboration, but it isn't saddled with Jerry Stiller making prostate jokes, either. It isn't about anything more than several funny actors darting between mini-set pieces, but you won't go more than a minute or two without a laugh. Especially at the part with the knives.
DVD viewers will thrill to Snoop's walkthrough of his costumes, plus deleted scenes and a gag reel. Todd Phillips also offers a snoozy commentary track, which is safely skipped.
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