Abbot & Costello. Laurel & Hardy. The Marx Brothers. Martin & Lewis. Monty Python. Over the years, there have been many great comedy teams whose films have made us laugh. But, over the last two decades, that phenomenon has petered out, most likely due to egos and financial decisions made in Hollywood. But it's now apparent that a group of actors are comfortable with pooling their talents and appearing in films together. These 5 guys are Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell, and their films have resulted in some of the most successful comedies of the past few years, both in terms of dollars and laughs. Now comes Starsky & Hutch, a vehicle which is perfectly suited for Stiller & Wilson, and a few of their cronies.
Starsky & Hutch is based on the popular 1970s TV show, and serves as a sort of prequel to the television series. As the film opens, Detective David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is being reprimanded by Captain Doby (Fred Williamson) for firing his gun into a crowd, while Detective Ken "Hutch" Hutchison (Owen Wilson) is in trouble for staging several "undercover" robberies. Doby decides that these two loose cannons should be partners, although they are polar opposites. Starsky is straight-laced and strives to be the perfect cop. Hutch doesn't follow the rules and often associates with criminals. After visiting Hutch's favorite informant, Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) and investigating a corpse found in the river, Starsky & Hutch begin to suspect that a large drug deal is going to happen in Bay City, and that it's being masterminded by local businessman Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn). Feldman is very slick however, and Starsky & Hutch must go undercover, risking their badges, to bring the man down.
Starsky & Hutch is an interesting film in that it's both a spoof of the original show, but it also pays homage to the cop shows of the 70s. The film perfectly copies the look and feel of those classic shows by mimicking the clothes, lingo, and shooting styles of those programs (Director Todd Phillips puts the "unmotivated zoom" to good use). This same line of thinking is put to use in mocking those shows. Everything about Starsky & Hutch exaggerates the style of the original show, with the clothes being louder, the cars being faster, the hair being wilder, and the technology being lamer (a certain scene in which Huggy Bear goes undercover is a particularly good example of this). The makers of Starsky & Hutch really did their homework, making the film look like a show from the past, while lampooning one at the same time.
But, that look and feel can't save what is ultimately a mediocre movie once you get past the main joke -- Yes, cop shows from the 70s do look very lame by today's standards, and it's fun to spoof them. But, beyond that basic premise, there isn't much to Starsky & Hutch, save for the great performances by the actors. The "police partners who don't get along because they're so different" genre has been done to death, and even in a satire it feels old. The drug-smuggling angle offers nothing new and all of the characters are stereotypes, save for Will Ferrell's uncredited turn as Big Earl, one of the weirdest inmates this side of Oz. There are some funny lines in the film, but many of the jokes fall flat.
However, the actors appear to be having a great time, and this makes the picture worth watching. Stiller and Wilson proved in Zoolander that they play off of each other very well, and that vibe drives this movie. These two could make a career of playing characters with differing outlooks on life who are forced to work together, and their scenes are funny, especially the one in which Hutch sings (do you recognize the song?), while Starsky binges on coffee. Vince Vaughn appears to be determined to fill out his resume by playing the most laid-back characters in film history and Reese Feldman is no exception. Vaughn is hilarious as the philandering gangster who wants to sell drugs AND put on the perfect bat mitzvah. I don't consider Snoop Dogg to be much of an actor, but he was apparently born to play Huggy Bear and his smooth groove adds a nice touch to the movie. The film also features some nice turns by Jason Bateman (with his appearance in Dodgeball, he's apparently a junior member of this new comedy pack), Juliette Lewis, and of course, Will Ferrell's stomach-churning portrayal of Big Earl. Starsky & Hutch is a high-concept comedy that doesn't quite live up to its potential, but does produce some solid laughs and offers another glimpse at a group of actors who are changing the face of comedy.
Starsky & Hutch drives a souped-up Gran Torino onto DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is good, but not great, representing a fairly standard DVD release. The image is clear and sharp, showing virtually no throughout the film. The colors are especially good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. There was no notable video distortion when horizontal lines were present, which is a very good thing. However, a very noticeable line runs along the top part of the screen, just below the upper black bar, and any object which ventures into this area becomes distorted. This is quite evident in the first scene with Captain Doby, as the top of his head keeps jumping to the left! Other than that occurrence, the transfer is solid.
The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which, like the video, is above average, but not truly outstanding. The dialogue in the film is always clear and audible, and the track is devoid of any hissing or distortion. The dynamic range is very stable and there are no sudden shifts in volume. The action scenes distribute a nice amount of audio to the surround sound speakers and the subwoofer gets the occasional chance to allow itself to be heard. The vintage music in the movie sounds great and demonstrates nice stereo separation in the front speakers.
The Starsky & Hutch DVD offers a nice sampling of special features. We start with an audio commentary from director Todd Phillips. Although there are some gaps in his chat, Phillips speaks fairly consistently throughout the film. He comments a great deal on the actors and what they brought to their characters. He also talks about the locations and overall production of the film. It's not the most exciting commentary ever, but it does contain some interesting information. I must say that the DVD seems to be missing something by not having a commentary with Stiller and Wilson. "Fashion Fa Shizzle Wit Huggy Bizzle" is both hell on my SpellCheck and a brief (3 minutes) overview of the costumes worn by Snoop Dogg in the movie. In this segment, Snoop peruses the costume rack in his trailer and describes the various outfits. Those of you who have grown tired of glossy behind-the-scenes specials will love the "Last Look Special" (9 minutes). This fake featurette looks like the real thing, as it contains film clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and comments from the cast and crew, but the participants all rant about how much they hate the movie, each other, and especially director Todd Phillips. Vince Vaughn gets in some good jabs and Stiller's profanity-laden comments are very funny. The DVD contains 6 deleted scenes which are shown in one continuous reel, totaling about 6 1/2 minutes. Several of these scenes delve deeper into the depravity that is Hutch's life and give Owen Wilson more opportunities to shine. A 5-minute "Gag Reel" offers some funny bloopers. The film's theatrical trailer is presented here, letterboxed at 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs.
Starsky & Hutch is a mild, but entertaining comedy which can be enjoyed by viewers of many generations. However, those who lived through the 70s and actually experienced not only the original show, but those times, first-hand will get a bigger kick out of the film. The DVD offers solid audio and video, as well as some entertaining extras.