much longer must we wait before we can at last buy tickets for Holmes
and Yoyo: The Movie? Why hasnt Supertrain gotten the big-screen
treatment that it so obviously deserves? And will the media ever cover the
national tragedy that is the stalled development of The New Man From
Atlantis? Television programming of the 1960s and 70s still holds
rich veins of movie magic that have yet to be mined, and I urge Hollywood
studio executives to stop their lollygagging and get to work. My state of
arrested adolescence depends on it!
Thankfully, we now have Starsky & Hutch to wrap us up in its warm blanket of nostalgic laughs, allowing us to blissfully forget for a few hours that we actually exist in the 21st century and that were not 10 years old. Some critics charge that movies based on old TV shows like Lost in Space or Charlies Angels reflect a bankruptcy of creativity among filmmakers and a retarded sense of discovery on the parts of audiencesthat moviegoers just want the comfort of seeing what theyve already seen, and movie makers are only too glad to supply them with old (profitable) ideas.
But things could be worseand they are! Hollywoods eternal quest to make movies out of video games (coming soon: Soul Caliber) makes its regurgitation of old TV shows look inspired. Not only do beloved TV shows have characters with discernible personalities, but they also have a built-in audience of former adolescents yearning to recall a time when they didnt have to worry about world terrorism or unemployment.
Since I land squarely in that particular demographic, my judgment might be compromisedbut I found Starsky & Hutch to go beyond the lowly aspirations of the TV-to-movie genre to attain true excellence as a stupid comedy. And we need all the well-made stupid comedies we can get these days.
As far as TV cop series go, the original Starsky & Hutch (1975-79) wasnt so badsort of Serpico meets Bullitt, with a dash of Superfly thrown into the mix. It offered two streetwise undercover cops racing around an urban metropolis in a blazing red Ford Torino, a hip African American snitch by the name of Huggy Bear, and that newfangled cultural trend of male sensitivity. These werent just two cops busting headsthese guys loved each other! The movie, directed by stupid-comedy expert Todd Phillips (Old School), splits the uprights by using those elements without routinely mocking them. Just like the much more concise video for The Beastie Boys "Sabotage" by Spike Jonze, Starsky & Hutch deploys its TV-cop clichés with affection. For instance, just wearing a belted sweater is funny enough today that theres no need to make characters actually refer to it.
The plot itself (just like on the TV show) is nearly inconsequential; its just there so our mismatched partners have something to do. Ben Stiller plays Starsky as upright to the point of ineptitude, using extreme force to apprehend anyone who dares break even the smallest of laws. Owen Wilsons Hutch, on the other hand, is laid back enough to disregard several laws for his own profit. The two are thrown together to investigate a major drug deal that may involve respected businessman Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn, when will you ever find that great starring role?). This inspires them to go undercover as mimes, engage in a drug-fueled disco dance-off, and interview a naked cheerleader who renders their brains incapable of forming complete thoughts.
Starsky & Hutch works because Stiller and Wilson are genuinely funny guys with good chemistry (as seen in five previous movies, such as Zoolander). Although Stiller has been unable to resist making bad romantic comedies, he is at heart a great sketch comedian and its good to see him back making an ass of himself instead of trying to impress Jennifer Aniston. Does Owen Wilson play characters? Well, nobut his slightly dazed yet always thinking Texas-surfer-dude persona is consistently amusing, whether in the Wild West (Shanghai Noon) or Bosnia (Behind Enemy Lines). Together, Stillers wound-up yin and Wilsons unwound yang make for a convincing comedy team. An added bonus is Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear, who continues to forge a career out of making pimping seem like All-American mainstream entertainment. (Dogg has his own line of porno videos.) Nevertheless, hes smooth, has style, and not above looking really silly.
I dont know if Todd Phillips qualifies as an auteur yet, but he does have a certain talent for ribald comedy. And every once in a while, he manages to throw in enough weird imagery to qualify as "different." (In Starsky & Hutch, for instance, the cops are confronted by an 8-year-old boy flinging steak knives into their bodiesnot something you often see in a studio movie.) Next on his directorial plate is, yes, a movie version of a 70s TV series, in this case The Six Million Dollar Man starring Jim Carrey. Bereft of new ideas, perhaps, but itll probably be funny enough to while away a few hours on a Friday night at the multiplex which is a Hollywood tradition even older than making movies out of old TV shows.