From 1975 to 1979, the best cop show on television was Starsky & Hutch. A perennial ratings winner, it was also groundbreaking in that it set the rules for ‘buddy cop’ TV series for the next two decades. Starsky & Hutch took the grit of cop shows and added mild tones of humor, gray doses of realism and adrenaline-fueled car chases.
Starsky & Hutch worked on TV because of chemistry. David Soul, a pretty boy singer/actor, was cast alongside Paul Michael Glaser, a serious dramatist with ambitions of directing and producing his own work. On another level, the Starsky & Hutch series was different because it was real. It was a cop show that was not black and white.
It was a realistic show with great stories and great action.
Now, nearly two decades later (and after several rewrites and studio delays) the same chemistry that fueled the TV series drives the new film version of Starsky & Hutch.
David Starsky is a serious cop, living in the shadow of his late mother’s exemplary police record. He is tense, on edge and generally not very fun to be around. Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson is much more fun, but his desire to cut corners and make a few extra bucks supercedes his playing it by the book The two castaway cops cross paths after embarrassing separate incidents land them in the doghouse of their supervisor, Captain Doby. Captain Doby decides that the intense and devoted Starsky & the laidback and slick Hutch should be partners.
Early on, Starsky & Hutch don’t see eye to eye on many things, protcol or methodology of police investigation in particular. In fact, they disagree on just about everything. But when they come up against Reese Feldman, a drug-dealing wannabe who has developed cocaine that is impervious to regular detection, things begin to change.
Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn, another Phillips film alum) plays Feldman as a slick, polished crook who desperately wants to leap from the ranks of dealer to gangster. His arrogance, cruelty and showmanship are matched equally by Starsky & Hutch’s blundering as they try to bring him down. It is this battle with Feldman that provides the impetuous for Starsky & Hutch to bond.
The streets of Bay City are tough and mean. To be an effective cop there, you need to break the rules and occasionally look the other way. ‘Hutch’ does this frequently, most often with the aid of a slick informant named Huggy Bear. Although Huggy Bear is a crook with fingers in many pots, he is, at heart, a decent guy.
As Huggy Bear, Snoop Dogg steals Starsky & Hutch. Mr. Dogg has a knack for comedy. His timing is perfect and he works well in a variety of scenes. He plays Huggy Bear as a lovable lothario who is sly, funny, droll and always looking after himself.
Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller are also affable onscreen. The duo, previously paired onscreen in six films, clearly enjoy working together. Throughout Starsky & Hutch their comedic timing is impeccable. Stiller provides the perfect comedic foil for Owen Wilson’s easygoing, dumbfounded Hutch. Wilson lightens the mood when things start to drag. The key to this film is their ability to make you like these characters and forget their 70s era predecessors. Despite their onscreen bickering, Stiller and Wilson engender Starsky and Hutch with a genuine sense of friendship.
Another reason this film is a winner is because Todd Phillips rounded out the cast with talented people. Juliette Lewis and Molly Sims play the two women in Feldman’s life. Lewis is particularly fun as Kittie, a naïve young starlet who believes her man really cares about her. Will Farrell (who previously worked with Phillips in Old School) is hysterical. He provides light moments as a convict acting as a go-between for the dastardly drug dealer Reese Feldman. Carmen Electra and Amy Smart round out the cast as sexy, young cheerleeder girlfriends who get Starsky and Hutch closer to Feldman.
We live in an era of cinema where Hollywood doesn’t make original movies anymore. Instead, they take the shortcut of mining comics, books and old TV shows for big box office dollars. Although Starsky & Hutch follows this pattern, it is a film with a plot, characters and a sense of charm about it. Plus it is a whole lot of fun!
It is interesting to note that nearly twenty years after it carved a niche as a landmark television drama series, Starsky & Hutch has returned as an action comedy. This film has set in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly cause renewed nostalgic interest in the Ford Gran Torino, bellbottoms and eight track tapes.
Phillips makes the film funnier by having it self-reference the TV series. He brings back the Gran Torino. He also re-uses some of the camera shots that appeared in the series opening credits. Plus, there is a fun scene where Hutch plays an old David Soul hit on guitar. This is, of course, topped off with cameos form Soul himself along with Paul Michael Glaser.
The guilty pleasure of Starsky & Hutch is that despite appearing so serious and straight-laced, it works as a comedy far richer than just its 70s flashbacks, offbeat jokes and pretty girls. Refreshingly Stiller, Wilson and Phillips have birthed not just another action comedy or a wacky cop flick, but a fun, ironic romp of kitsch that anyone can enjoy. Their hard week has paid off though because; Starsky & Hutch are back on the beat.