Starsky-Hutch-Movie-Poster-juliette-lewis-15075235-1500-1124Is this film available for rent on Netflix Instant and/or through the iTunes Store? Starsky & Hutch is not available for rent through Netflix Instant, but it is available for rent through the iTunes Store.

Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Snoop Dogg, Jason Bateman, Fred Williamson, Will Ferrell, Amy Smart, Carmen Electra, & Juliette Lewis

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Screenplay by: John O’Brien, Todd Phillips, & Scot Armstrong

During the 2000’s, Hollywood realized the goldmine of profits it could potentially make by translating popular 1960’s and 1970’s TV shows into feature films (e.g. I Spy, Charlie’s Angels, Bewitched, Dukes of Hazzard, & Get Smart). Some people, like me for instance, found these projects representing the end of all creativity in the film business. After all, the concept and characters are already in place and well established and you don’t really require a good script because all audiences presumably care about is seeing how their favorite TV shows look updated on the big screen. This may sound unfairly negative of me, but given the number of original screenplays floating out there in all corners of the United States, it blows my mind that studio executives would rather opt to recycle old material and then blame the lack of original screenplays as a reason for why TV shows are being translated.

I have never seen an episode of the original TV series of Starsky & Hutch, which ran from 1975 to 1979. I was too young, I doubt the show even aired in Iran where I was born, and even if it did, I very much doubt my parents would have allowed me to watch an adult cop drama. Besides, I was too busy being engrossed by Little House on the Prairie and Laurel & Hardy to pay attention to anything else on TV. When I got older, I became aware of the show and probably like other kids my age, I lumped it with all the other cop shows like Magnum P.I., Simon & Simon, Cagney & Lacey, & CHiPs. I was never into cop shows so the idea of translating Starsky & Hutch into a feature length film did not do much for me.

Starsky & Hutch is quite simply about two cops who are assigned to be partners against each other’s wishes. Switching the personalities contained in the show, Starsky (Ben Stiller) is the straight-laced, by-the-book cop who absolutely lives for the job. Hutch (Owen Wilson), on the other hand, is the laid-back cop who likes to bend the rules of the system and abuse his authority to get away with illegal stuff. In the film, Starsky and Hutch discover a dead body that has floated from the sea. The body leads them to Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), a well-respected figure in Bay City. Starsky and Hutch eventually find out that Feldman is actually a cocaine dealer and he has invented a type of cocaine that is undetectable to K-9 dogs and hence, can be easily shipped into the country without detection. However, our cops have to figure out how to catch a well-respected businessman like Feldman. To help them is Hutch’s pimp friend, Huggy Bear Brown (Snoop Dogg).

As I have never seen the show, it is impossible for me to assess how closely the film aligns with the show. Except for Starsky’s red and white Ford Gran Torino and the Huggy Bear character, everything else from the film is something that can be found in practically any cop show. For me, the real appeal of Starsky & Hutch are all of the 1970’s references, which this film is CHOCK full of. There is not a single scene in which the film does not make a reference to a pop cultural item from the era or play a 70’s song. And what I liked about the 70’s references was that you don’t just get the obvious 70’s references that you see in every other movie (e.g. the playing of the Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive). The film is careful to mine everything it can from the era and pour it into the film. For example, the dead guy’s denim jacket with a dragon on it, the little boy named Willis, Starsky and Hutch dressing like Captain America and Billy from Easy Rider, and in addition to these more overt elements, the film’s look, style, and production design all adhere very closely to the 1970’s (Hutch’s apartment has a coffee table made out of a tree, which my parents had in the early 1980’s).

No one can or should go into a film like Starsky & Hutch expecting a compelling story. These types of shows derived their popularity not from their plotlines, but mainly from the appeal of the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Aside from the 1970’s nostalgia factor, the film relies heavily on its huge cast and on making the audience laugh. However, Starsky & Hutch does not succeed in the laughs department and this is a big deal when you have the likes of Todd Phillips (The Hangover series, Old School, and Road Trip) directing and such comedic talents like Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell.

The film’s comedic misstep is not huge, but it is big enough to make Starsky & Hutch ultimately unmemorable. The film has many comedic setups that hold a lot of promise and begin well, but their full potential is never fully realized in the end. For example, when Starsky and Hutch go to a biker bar dressed like Captain America and Billy, the whole scene does not take more than a few minutes and all we see is a fight scene between the cops and bikers and very little humor. Later, our cops go and visit Will Ferrell in jail. In exchange for information about Reese Feldman, Ferrell makes them pretend they are dragons. Funny, but not hilarious. The film continues with scenes like this where the humor just fizzles.

As for the cast, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson generate great chemistry together as a buddy comedy team. It is amazing to think that these two actors have now appeared together onscreen 9 times!! Although they may not reach the classic heights of such comedy teams as Abbott and Costello or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Stiller and Wilson’s comedy styles complement each other, both are funny, and they are always likeable together. In fact, except for a few exceptions (Wilson in Midnight in Paris and Stiller in Reality Bites), I think both actor’s best films are the ones they have starred in together. Starsky & Hutch is also one of the last few films that Vince Vaughn gives us a great comedic performance before his career took a qualitative nosedive. However, the most watchable performance in this film is hands down Snoop Dogg’s Huggy Bear. Together with his colorful pimp outfits and cool jive talk, Snoop Dogg’s sheer presence steals every scene that he is in. One of the best scenes of the film is where Huggy Bear goes undercover for Starsky and Hutch by being a golf caddy for Reese Feldman. The look of restrained fury on Huggy’s face as Feldman berates him and calls him racist names is classic. Its just too bad the original Huggy Bear, played by Antonio Fargas, does not make a cameo in the film.

Speaking of cameos, Paul Michal Glaser and David Soul, the original Starsky and Hutch, make their obligatory cameos at the end of the film. The scene does nothing more than have them step out of their Ford Gran Torino and pose for the camera while fans of the show can see how much they have aged over the decades. On a sort of related note, for any of you wondering if the film addresses the gay innuendos of the show (the show had one of the cops falling into the arms of the other and having a quizzical look on his face), the film does not shy away from this in the least bit (there is a montage of the two buddies running through the beach wearing matching t-shirts and Owen Wilson plays “Don’t Give Up” on his guitar and looking at Ben Stiller).

Starsky & Hutch is not a bad film and despite its failure to reach the comedic heights it promises to reach, the film remains watchable and entertaining. Especially if you have nothing to do on a Saturday night and you happen to catch it on TV.

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