David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser played two undercover cops busting crime in a red and white Ford Torino in the cult cop drama Starsky & Hutch which began in 1975 and enjoyed a three year run. The series began as a tough drama, but gradually softened around the middle as the leads spent more time goofing around than shooting at the bad guys.
To people my age, the series holds fond memories of people falling into mounds of cardboard boxes, car chases and the unintentional campness of Huggy Bear, played by Antonio Fargas.
The series has been rescued from a fate consisting of midnight showings on obscure cable channels by director Todd Phillips and the considerable talents of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
Phillips, who was five when Starsky & Hutch debuted on TV, was an interesting choice for director. He made the extremely funny Road Trip (2000), but also the 2003 dud Old School starring Owen’s brother Luke, together with Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, who are reunited with Phillips for Starsky & Hutch. So for me, the movie could have gone either way: funny or not funny.
But making sure that even the straight lines gets laughs are Stiller and Wilson as cop duo Dave Starsky and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson in their fifth movie together (following The Cable Guy, Meet the Parents, Zoolander and The Royal Tennenbaums). Both are playing the kind of roles they’re known for: Stiller is the slightly nerdy uptight one and Wilson is the slacker with the drawl. Hey, If it works, don’t knock it!
At the beginning of the movie they are thrust together by their Captain (Fred Williamson) and it takes a while before they warm to each other. They are on the trail of Reese Feldman, a drug smuggler, played by Vince Vaughn, who has perfected a method of making cocaine seem like sugar to sniffer dogs.
This leads to one of the movie’s funniest moments when Starsky pours some into his coffee and leads the charge to a local night club where he tries to out-dance an uncredited Har Mar Superstar!
There are some other funny scenes, including trying to track down a guy called Big Earl while dressed as Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda from Easy Rider (1969) and the images caught on the prison video camera when they do eventually find him…
I came away from the preview theatre muttering the catchphrase “Do it. DO IT!” uttered by Dave Starsky while disguised a rich guy (actually a character from the old Ben Stiller Show from the early nineties) in order to mingle at a party undetected.
But despite some genuinely funny moments, the movie is not as funny as it could be. With such strong original material, I was hoping for a few more laughs. Huggy Bear is played adequately by Snoop Dogg, but the character just isn’t that funny and talented actors such as Chris Penn and Juliette Lewis aren’t given enough material to work with.
As a gentle pastiche of 70s cop shows, it really does work. The art direction and camera work (remember those crazy zooms?) are flawless recreations of the original. Nothing is exaggerated. It’s exactly as it was. And original stars Glaser and Soul turn up for a brief cameo (Glaser has aged well, Soul less so).
Director Todd Phillips has clearly got the 70s bug, having recently signed up to a remake of The Six Million Dollar Man with Jim Carrey playing Colonel Steve Austin, the Bionic Man. It’s another classic ripe with comedy potential. Let’s hope he does it justice, just as he has done with Starsky & Hutch.
Luckily, the movie will stand repeated viewings, making it an ideal candidate for an evening of DVD and Pizza, while you say to the guy nearest the fridge: “Get me a beer. Do it. DO IT.”
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
Dir. Todd Phillips
Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Juliette Lewis, Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell (uncredited)
Genre: Comedy, Action, 70s pastiche