Movie review by Greg Carlson
Following several successful pairings, Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller strike out in the big-screen adaptation of “Starsky & Hutch,” a name-only version of the 70s police series. Directed by Todd Phillips, “Starsky & Hutch” is long on period detail and short on humor – a deadly equation considering the insignificance of the buddy-cop parody genre. Wilson and Stiller were hilarious against all odds in “Zoolander,” and their effortless comic riffing seemed ideally translatable to another cartoon confection. All the other elements for a sure-fire movie appeared locked into place: Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear, and additional support from Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Too bad none of it works.
Phillips stumbles and trips through the obligatory exposition of the mismatched partners: in a slight inversion of the original personalities of the characters inhabited by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul (who show up in a jaw-droppingly lame cameo), David Starsky (Stiller) is the by-the-book straight arrow and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Wilson) is the on-the-take rule-bender, happy to rob Chinese bookies and lift cash out of the wallets of floating corpses. Assigned to an uneasy partnership by Captain Dobey (Fred Williamson, flabbergasted), Starsky and Hutch quickly find themselves on the trail of big-time cocaine dealer Reese Feldman (Vaughn).
Feldman has figured out how to manufacture an odorless, undetectable type of coke, and he is eager to unload the product to the underworld of Bay City. “Starsky & Hutch” lurches from one dull scene to the next, setting up a series of tiresome undercover operations that allow Stiller and Wilson to dress up like Hopper and Fonda in “Easy Rider” and try on other pointless disguises in their pursuit of Feldman. At some point, the boys hook up with foxy cheerleaders Holly (Amy Smart) and Stacey (Carmen Electra), but Phillips is far more interested in mining the homo-eroticism of Starsky and Hutch’s love-hate coupling, and the women are treated as if they are only getting in the way.
Along with his team of screenwriters, Phillips strains to find one funny gag in the entire movie, but most everything fizzles out without ever really igniting. “Starsky & Hutch” gives itself too much credit for being clever: the boys do a mime act that results in the death of a pony, Starsky accidentally gets high on his own supply and faces off against Har Mar Superstar in a disco dancing contest that goes on forever, and the iconic red-with-white-stripe Gran Torino barely breaks a sweat.
Nothing in “Starsky & Hutch” feels fresh or interesting, and the plot is so linear and lacking in the development of anything resembling character or subtext that one feels inclined to nod off several times throughout the bloated proceedings. Packed with wall to wall AM staples, like the Carpenters, Dazz, Chicago, and Bill Withers, the soundtrack to the movie proves more enjoyable than anything that happens onscreen. By the time the final credits roll, a weird feeling settles in that you cannot really remember anything about the movie, aside from its costumes and pop hits. Audiences have come to expect more from Stiller and Wilson team-ups, and hopefully their next one will be a return to form.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/8/04.