Tag Archive: Fred Williamson


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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Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez met early in their careers in the early 1990s at the Toronto Film Festival. Tarantino had RESERVOIR DOGS and Rodriguez had EL MARIACHI at the time. They fast became friends and their careers developed on a similar pace. Tarantino followed up with PULP FICTION at around the same time Rodriguez came up with DESPARADO (an American, higher budget remake of EL MARIACHI). Both filmmakers, especially that of Tarantino’s, gained huge success and they became part of a new wave of indie movies that attracted the attention of mainstream audiences. When it was announced that Tarantino and Rodriguez would collaborate to make FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, film nerds shit themselves all over. With Tarantino writing the screenplay and Rodriguez directing, it was inconceivable that anything short of an instant classic would be made.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is about two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino), who are bank robbers on the run. They are attempting to flee to Mexico, where they plan to retire on their stolen fortune. Along the way, they kidnap a preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Driving the family’s RV across the border into Mexico, the motley crew seek out a biker bar called The Titty Twister, where the Gecko Brothers have arranged to meet up with their contact. However, The Titty Twister ends up being far more than a titty bar – it’s a hellish haven of blood-thirsty vampires!

This film made it pretty obvious that although they may be good friends, Rodriguez and Tarantino’s styles do not compliment one another. The first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN works beautifully and you’re completely taken in by the characters, the dialogue, and the situations. This first half is everything that occurs before the characters enter the Titty Twister and it has Tarantino’s work all over it. The dialogue scenes are long and satisfying, with exchanges that crackle with a constant energy. The Gecko Brothers are obvious Tarantino creations. Dressed in their signature black suits (just like Jules and Vincent in PULP FICTION), the brothers have a certain coolness about them and Tarantino has injected smart and quirky attributes into them (Richie wears a retainer because he grinds his teeth and he apparently likes to watch cartoons). The locations in the first half are also classic Tarantino – old shitty motels and diners and stores and products with interesting 1950’s sounding names like Benny’s World of Liquor and Big Kahuna Burgers (also featured in PULP FICTION). Finally, we have actors from Tarantino’s usual stable of actors such as Harvey Keitel (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION), Juliette Lewis (NATURAL BORN KILLERS), and the use of Blaxploitation stars such as Fred Williamson.

In short, the first half of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is character-driven and we’re fully immersed in a world created by Quentin Tarantino. So its quite a jolt when the film takes a complete tonal shift and turns into a vampire action movie. Its not the fact that the film turns into something completely different that bothers me (Joss Whedon’s CABIN IN THE WOODS does this as well and does it far better). I just didn’t find the second half of the film to be all that entertaining nor did the two halves of the film compliment one another. It wasn’t scary nor funny and it was as if I was watching a very bad straight to DVD horror film. This makes me wonder if Tarantino and Rodriguez recognized how uncomplimentary their styles were and decided that their next collaboration (GRINDHOUSE) would comprise of two entirely separate films. Interestingly enough, Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR was stylistically the same as FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but I think I enjoyed PLANET TERROR far more because I knew what to expect from the beginning. In contrast, I was expecting a melding of the two filmmakers’ styles in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but instead I got one film that could not connect the two halves.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is George Clooney’s first major feature length film. Many cite to OUT OF SIGHT as the film that finally turned Clooney into a movie star. In just about every role he’s played, Clooney more or less performs his characters in the same way so if you like Clooney in one film, then you’ve liked him in every film he’s done. Here he flies off the screen as Seth Gecko, clearly lapping up the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and his roguish take on this dark antihero. Tarantino provides backup as Seth’s younger brother, Richie. Where Seth is instantly likeable despite his short fuse of a temper, Richie is a nauseating sex offender with a taste for rape and murder. Strangely enough, however, Tarantino’s nerdy brilliance in real life channels well into his character.

Harvey Keitel (with an on-again, off-again Texas accent) brings his usual level of excellence to Jacob, the preacher who has lost his faith in God after losing his wife in a car accident. Keitel does a great and believable job as playing a man who has lost his faith, but who at the same time struggles with this decision. His performance is restrained and subtle but without losing any of its intensity. Finally, we have Juliette Lewis, who plays the preacher’s daughter and despite not having many lines, she steals many of the scenes she is in. She sort of reminded me of her character in CAPE FEAR, but here she plays down the sexy nymphet and plays up the innocence of her character (after all, she is a preacher’s daughter).

The horror portion of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is only going to interest you if you’ve never seen a good horror film. If you want to see a horror film along these lines and that has been done much better, check out Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2 and Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE. Both of those films have the whole buckets-of-blood thing going but with more style and a sense of comic timing that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN completely lacks. Here, Robert Rodriguez is clearly behind the horror part of the film and at times it seemed like he didn’t quite know what to do with a bigger budget. The Titty Twister is a major location and its set up to almost be a character unto itself. However, we’re barely shown the contours of this bar before the action begins. Consequently, you don’t get a sense of place and mood before all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, we are briefly introduced to characters played by Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Salma Hayek, and Cheech Marin. They are all two-dimensional characters and they seem to be included in the film to simply increase the cast’s name recognition. I felt cheated that none of these characters received better treatment in the screenplay.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was a film that probably brought much more joy to its filmmakers and actors in making it than for the viewer watching it. If it wasn’t for the influence and prestige of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN would have unlikely been made. Without those names behind it, this story is no better (and actually worse) than any episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.