March 06, 2004

Starsky & Hutch

Everything Old is Old, Still

Starsky & Hutch posterStarsky & Hutch
starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Fred Williamson, Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, Jason Bateman, Carmen Electra, Amy Smart (she of The Butterfly Effect), George Kee Cheung, polyester, curly perms, and platform shoes.
directed by: Todd Phillips; written by Phillips and a team of four other guys, based on characters created by William Blinn.
running time: 101 minutes
MPAA says: PG-13 for drug content, sexual situations, partial nudity, language and some violence.
release date: March 5, 2004

"You shouldn't do this because it's so incredibly lame!" says Hutch (Owen Wilson). He's commenting on a disco-dance competition, but he'd might as well be commenting on the movie.

Starsky (Ben Stiller), an uptight straight-arrow with chips on both his shoulders, is partnered for the first time with Hutch (Wilson), a playboy with loose ethics. They attempt to foil a drug kingpin (Vince Vaughn) with the help of superfly street boss Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg). Ben Stiller screws up his face nice and tight to be Starsky and keeps it that way, even when he's presumably showing a sudden emotion, and Owen Wilson plays Owen Wilson. Snoop Dogg is resplendent in his funkadelic couture, which makes up for a lack of actual acting as he dutifully recites his lines. Vince Vaughn fits heart and soul into his polyester villain, and the supporting cast (Fred Williamson as the captain, Jason Bateman as the villain's sidekick) are alternately '70s strident and '70s bland; perfect fits. Will Ferrell, in a cameo, somehow makes an outrageous character brilliantly understated.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed Addams' Family Values and A Very Brady Sequel—and I'd never watched more than a couple of reruns of the original Brady series. I thought Zoolander was vile. This may help you calibrate when I say: this remake doesn't fly as well as Starsky's hill-leaping car.

It's not that Starsky & Hutch is a bad movie. It's such a perfect mimicry, in dialogue and plot and filming and incidental music, and in some cases acting style, and it has so little commentary within it that would not have been found in the original series, the movie is very nearly superfluous. You would have as much fun, and would get as many laughs at the expense of the '70s, simply watching the original show. All the '70s television creatures turn out, from the bland to the bizarre, from afro-wearing little latchkey kids in striped t-shirts to glossily painted cheerleaders to a cigarette in every hand. There's little new except a broadening of the characters and the addition of a few subtle jokes about New Coke and a few unsubtle, slapstick scenes that wouldn't have passed for original Starsky & Hutch. The problem, in fact, is that this movie has everything that makes the original amusing today along with everything that makes a '70s television episode a bit of a dull dud in places, while failing to spark any hint of chemistry between the leads—so it's lacking the one factor that might make it more than a brainless exercise in sitting still until the end credits roll.

The credits, by the way, briefly roll over a handful of bloopers and some mockups of well-known shots from the series.

That disco scene did accomplish one thing: Never before have I been so glad not to have been an adult during the '70s.

Hey! But what about subtext? For all that Wilson & Stiller are touted as a great comedy duo, they don't precisely sparkle together here. Anything worrisome has been safely separated out so that the lads are briefly the victims of someone else's peccadilloes; all appropriately embarrassing to the poor fellows. I hurt my eyes straining to see anything else in their stilted interaction but two guys doing shtick.

To See or Not to See: Watch the Nick at Nite or TVLand schedules for reruns of the original. It's bound to happen.

Astute Reader asks: What if I don't have cable, and I just want a laugh? My reply: I just didn't think it was funny enough to spend the money on and the time to sit through. It doesn't do much more than your average network sitcom can do, but if you're a fan of either of the leads, you might enjoy simply watching them on the screen. If you're a huge Starsky & Hutch fan you might want to see it just to compare. Otherwise, stay home and watch television, or spend your movie money on something else.

Outside Food: I saw this at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, where they serve such yummy inside food I actually get my vittles there. I had the Chicken Pesto, which was so much more interesting than the movie I sometimes forgot to pay attention to the screen, so enrapt was I in delicate strips of cheese layered over basil and succulent tomatoes. Ah!

Previews: Alamo Drafthouse showed previews for its upcoming anime screenings and two retro trailers: Fuzz, starring Burt Reynolds and Racquel Welch in a movie not too much different than the one we were there to see, and SuperFuzz, about a superhero cop. Both presumably meant to be humour, but it's hard to tell, in the '70s. Oh, and an announcement that the original Huggy Bear will be making an appearance at the Drafthouse later in the spring. Mindboggling.

Posted by OutsideFood at March 6, 2004 07:24 PM

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