Warner Bros. // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // July 20th, 2004
They're the man.
Maybe I'm such a fan of Todd Philips's last film, Old School, that I took the lazy self-satisfaction of Starsky & Hutch very personally. I wanted to like the film -- really, I did -- but ultimately removed the disc from my DVD player disappointed and sullen, feeling let down by a group of filmmakers I had counted on to deliver a really solid comedy. Starsky & Hutch wasn't it.
By-the-book David Starsky (Ben Stiller, Flirting With Disaster, Zero Effect) and rule-bending Ken Hutchinson (Luke Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Big Bounce) are detectives working the beat in Bay City. They're not happy about their new partnership, but they're even less happy about a new form of untraceable cocaine that's hitting the streets -- masterminded by Bay City's Number One dealer, Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn, Swingers, Clay Pigeons). With a little help from their underworld informant Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg, Bones) and a very special Ford Torino, the two set off to clean up the streets of Bay City -- '70s style.
I've been very fortunate in my comedy reviews lately. First there was Eurotrip, an unassuming but very funny comedy from earlier this year. Following that, I screened David O. Russell's 1996 comic masterpiece Flirting With Disaster for a review. To cap off this comedic winning streak, I reviewed Reno 911!: The Complete First Season, which is -- previously unbeknownst to me -- one of the funniest shows currently on television. Yeah, I was livin' the laughy life...and it was gooood.
With Starsky & Hutch, my luck ran out.
Am I being hard on it? Sure, but it's a movie that one should be hard on. It's got Ben Stiller, who -- once upon a time -- created one of the best sketch comedy shows of an entire decade (and, incidentally, is the star of the great Flirting With Disaster). Owen Wilson is half of the team responsible for the brilliance of films like Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. Todd Phillips' last film was Old School (and regardless of what it says about me, I think that movie is pretty close to genius). Starsky & Hutch mocks the 1970s -- the cheesy clothes, the vapid music, the ridiculous cop shows. Vince Vaughn is in it. Will Ferrell (Elf) is in it. The film seems to have everything going for it. Why doesn't it work?
Well, a bunch of reasons. For starters, it doesn't work all that hard at being funny -- it's the most self-satisfied comedy I've seen since the later installments of the Austin Powers franchise. Maybe the folks behind the film have gotten a bit too big for their britches, or have started to believe their own press; there's a pervasive feeling of "this is funny just because we're doing it" running throughout the film. Take the Vince Vaughn character, for example: he's never given one funny line of dialogue. Not one. Nor does he even attempt to deliver his endlessly clichéd cop-movie-bad-guy dialogue with any kind of comedic flair or creative timing. Should I be laughing, then, simply because it's Vince Vaughn playing the part? Starsky & Hutch seems to think so.
It's not entirely Vaughn's fault. His role, in fact, is indicative of another major problem with the film. On the one hand, it wants to play as a goofy sendup of '70s cop shows -- meaning we're inundated with a great deal of "look at the funny clothes / listen to the funny music" sequences (another symptom of the movie's inherent laziness). On the other hand, it wants to remain faithful to the genre it's making fun of, so we get a bunch of really fast zooms and an endless number of establishing shots. It's goofing on old episodes of Starsky & Hutch at the same time it's trying desperately to function as an episode of the show (making it either post-modern or post-post-modern; I'm not sure which). That tactic may have worked for Wes Craven's Scream, but that's because it was clever and a good horror movie. Starsky & Hutch, like the show it's slavishly imitating, is a subpar cop film -- and not terribly clever to boot.
The film marks the sixth -- that's right, sixth -- collaboration between stars Stiller and Wilson, and while it probably gets more mileage out of their onscreen personas than their previous pairings, it still hasn't found anything new to say about their partnership. Stiller is the intense guy, the uptight guy, the square; Wilson is the sly guy, the smooth guy, the slacker. We get it. There's no denying that the two have chemistry together, but isn't it about time they take a chance and mix it up a little bit? It's all become a tad predictable.
As for the rest of the cast -- well, my feelings about Vince Vaughn's performance are pretty clear at this point. Snoop Dogg is on hand for little more than to lend the film some hipness (this film shouldn't need him to be hip -- it falls short again). Will Ferrell does what he can in a small role, but isn't given much to do; once again, the main joke appears to be, "Look who it is! Will Ferrell! He's funny!" If you don't believe me, just watch for the reveal -- the film is in love with its cameos. I won't even get into the painfully drawn-out nostalgia / sympathy cameo near the film's end.
Warner Bros.' release of Starsky & Hutch comes in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with an optional enhancement for 16x9 playback (a full screen version is also being made available, but the film's cinematography relies on widescreen compositions -- that's the one you'll want). The film was just released a few months back, meaning there is no discernible print damage. Detail is sharp, but colors are on the drab side -- more likely a stylistic choice than a transfer issue. The 5.1 Dolby audio track is a lot like the film itself: it should be a lot of fun, but it's rather disappointing. Most of the action takes place up in the front, with only the occasional music cue giving the rest of the speakers any kind of workout. Again, like the film, it's passable, but on the whole, the track smacks of a missed opportunity.
The supplemental material doesn't make up for the lack in content, either. Director Todd Phillips delivers a rather dry and uninvolving commentary track (though he does relay one choice bit of trivia -- in the UK, just showing a shuriken -- a Chinese throwing star -- in your film will warrant it an "R" rating); more than once in his talk, Phillips comes off as being potentially more pleased with himself and the film than he ought to be. The "making-of" spoof, Last Look, is an amusing diversion; Snoop Dogg's fashion featurette is not. There are a few deleted scenes (one thing the film does not need to be is longer), as well as a gag reel consisting of the actors laughing instead of delivering their lines. Guess you had to be there.
Starsky & Hutch is more disappointing than it is flat-out bad. Let's face it -- any movie that features Amy Smart and Carmen Electra making out can't be a total waste of time, but the film as a whole feels like a waste of talent. It's too insular to work; someone should have stepped in and reminded everyone involved that they were making a film for more than just themselves.
Starsky & Hutch is found guilty of both Sloth and Pride; the Court hereby sentences that it tie itself to a bed for a month and cut up its face in a mirror. Or something. I can't remember. I just know that it ends with Amy Smart's head in a box.
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Feature Commentary by Director Todd Phillips
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Featurette: Fashion Fa Shizzle
* Documentary Spoof: Last Look
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers
* Official Site