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Starsky & Hutch Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/15/2004

A common opening line has occurred in most of the reviews that I have read of the new big screen adaptation of Starsky & Hutch:  either “I’ve never seen the original show” or “I was never a big fan of the original show.”  Me being a toddler when the original show aired on ABC (1975-1979), I’m in the former camp.  Since the show was such a big hit, I’m surprised I never saw reruns on either Nick-at-Nite or TV Land.  My only exposure to the show was the Beastie Boys’ video for “Sabotage,” which was helmed by oddball director Spike Jonze.  That video spoofed the show, since both Jonze and the band loved the style of it so much.  Now another show-loving director, Todd Phillips, is doing the movie version, and I think both fans and haters of the show will both love it.


It’s around 1975 (I’m guessing) in the fictional city of Bay City, California.  David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is a by-the-books cop whose stuffiness has resulted in him having twelve partners in just four years.  Other cops, such as Officer Manetti (Chris Penn), don’t like the way he is so uptight.  Starsky constantly has to live up to his late mother, who was a dedicated cop that kept the same partner for 22 years.  Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is also a cop, but he doesn’t quite live by the books.  In fact, he occasionally commits crimes to supplement his poor cop paycheck and covers it up under the guise of “being undercover.”  He does have a softer side though, by singing his sensitive song “Don’t Give Up On Us” and taking care of a neighborhood boy named Willis (Jeffrey Lorenzo.)  Their boss, police Captain Doby (Fred Williamson), decides to partner them up so they can keep tabs on each other.  On their first day together, they discover the body of Terrence Meyers (David Pressman), which has washed up on the shore.  Terrence was a henchman of local wealthy businessman Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn.)  Feldman had shot Terrence in the beginning of the movie because he had messed up a shipment of cocaine.  Feldman has a backup plan though, because he and his assistant, Kevin (Jason Bateman), have developed a new form of cocaine that’s undetectable to drug sniffing dogs or even human taste (actually, it tastes like artificial sweetener, which plays a key role in a later, uproarious scene.)  Hutch’s street informant, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), has heard of the cocaine and Feldman’s involvement with it.  When Starsky and Hutch interview Feldman, they can’t get much out of him, other than his cheating on his wife (Molly Simms) with his girlfriend Kitty (Juliette Lewis.)  Kitty does let it slip that Terrence had been dating a cheerleader named Staci (Carmen Electra.)  They interview her and her friend Holly (Amy Smart), who gives them Terrence’s old embroidered jacket.  Huggy recognizes the dragon embroidery as the work of Big Earl (Will Ferrell), a biker who is now in prison.  Big Earl gives them information on the cocaine in exchange for the cop duo doing some weird poses for his sexual gratification.  They drive around in Starsky’s cool red-and-white ‘74 Ford Gran Torino and do unorthodox things like dress up as mimes for Feldman’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and use Starsky’s “wig guy” in order to sneak into Feldman’s charity event for ex convicts, all to solve the murder and stop Feldman’s flow of his “New Coke.”


I’m kind of glad that Phillips didn’t go the Brady Bunch Movie route and have the characters exist in the present time.  First, it would seem like too much of a rip-off to do it just like Bunch.  Second, if they had updated their style, it wouldn’t have been as funny.  Third, if they had made it a modern-day action film and not a comedy, it would have been boring and formulaic.  Besides, I don’t see the director of Road Trip and Old School directing a cookie-cutter action flick quite yet.


Aside from making it a comedy (since the original show was considered a police drama), Phillips changed the mannerisms of the lead characters, I found out through my research.  Starsky was originally gung-ho and Hutch was originally soft-spoken and by the books.  My only guess as to why Phillips changed it was to further separate it from the show besides just making it a comedy.


I’ve noticed that Phillips is like my other favorite director Kevin Smith in that he keeps bringing back the same actors while working with new ones.  Vaughn, Lewis, Ferrell, Smart, and Dan Finnerty, the cheesy Bat Mitzvah singer, were all in Phillips’ previous movies.  I don’t have a problem with that, because a winning ensemble can make good movies.  Look at the Monty Python movies or Christopher Guest’s “mockumentaries.”  Both keep using the same people, and all of their movies are very funny.


I didn’t like the movie Zoolander as much as some of my friends, but I did like the chemistry between Stiller and Wilson.  That movie was mostly Stiller’s platform, whereas this one has Stiller share the spotlight with Wilson.  The chemistry is still there, and it is even more prevalent I think.  I heard that one of the reasons why the original show was a hit was the great chemistry between stars David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser (who both make a cameo appearance in the end of the movie.)  I think that chemistry will make a hit film as well.


Here were my original misgivings:  I never saw the original show and I hated Soul’s song.  I am a huge fan of cheesy ‘70s pop songs (no, I’m not kidding), but I never liked Soul’s #1 1977 hit “Don’t Give Up On Us.”  Yes, I know…that’s a stupid reason to be leery of a movie, but with only a pop song and a rap video as reference points, I didn’t have much to go on.

I was relieved to see a very funny movie that didn’t require me to be familiar with the original show and that kept Phillips as one of my favorite directors.  Even though Starsky & Hutch didn’t crack me up quite as much as the director’s previous films, I enjoyed what I saw.  I think fans of the original show will like it as a tribute, and haters of the show will like it as a spoof.  I’m glad that Phillips has a new stable of actors to work with that I believe we will see pop up again in his future movies.  Up next for Phillips is The Six Million Dollar Man, another send-up of a hit show from the ‘70s starring Jim Carrey as Col. Steve Austin.  I have seen that TV show before, and I bet the movie will be hilarious, though I hope this doesn’t put Phillips in a TV adaptation rut.


Thanks to Century Theatres for letting me see this film.  Visit them at www.centurytheatres.com to find the location near you.

Get the soundtrack featuring hits from the ‘70s, plus Owen Wilson singing David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up On Us” and Dan Finnerty singing Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin Love”:

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