CRITIC DOCTOR IS IN: DO STILLER AND WILSON MATCH UP TO “STARSKY & HUTCH”?

I almost lost faith in Hollywood’s attempt to convert old 70s TV shows to the big screen until I saw Warner Brother’s new “Starsky and Hutch” movie. I liked it!

“Stasky and Hutch” (based on the original 70’s TV cop show) is a tongue-in-cheek prequel about two detectives – Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) and Dave Starsky (Ben Stiller) who team up to chase drug dealers who are making a new form of cocaine. They hit the Bay City streets in their famous souped-up red and white 1974 Ford Torino and nail the bad guys.

Scott Foundas (laweekly.com) said, “Like the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ pictures and last year’s ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ remake, this depressingly uninspired action-comedy (based on the 1975–79 TV series) is Hollywood’s latest McMovie.”

I agree with you, Scott, about “Charlie’s Angels” – but “Starsky and Hutch” is the first 70s remake to make my day. Where “Charlie’s Angel’s” made the mistake of killing us with action, “Starsky and Hutch” killed their competition by sticking primarily to a zany satire (done right) and leaving the action for the backseat of the Ford Torino. The movie blends together a simple plot with comedy and just the right amount of car chases and shoot-ups.

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) got it right: “It’s a surprisingly funny movie, the best of the 1970’s recycling jobs.” James Beradinelli adds, “The key to the film’s success is that it uses the burned out premise as the springboard for a comedy, not an action flick.”

Unlike “Charlies Angels,” I felt that 70s vibe resonate throughout the film – maybe because it was filmed similar to a TV show. Peter Rainer (newyorkmetro.com) gripes, “’Starsky & Hutch’ doesn’t even work as a spoof, since director Todd Phillips chooses to play things straight. He shoots the movie all too faithfully, as if it really were a seventies TV show—cheesy sets, zoomy slo-mo, and lots of beige.”

But that’s why it works, Peter! It’s not just a big action event. It has a plot and the characters are hilarious. Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear is absolutely perfect for that part and we grow to admire him as the film progresses. And like the TV series, it’s a blast to watch Starsky and Hutch face their angry boss Captain Dobey (Fred Williamson). Ok. So Will Ferrell didn’t belong there. The film’s not perfect. I think by sticking to a TV-like format, the movie stayed glued together. But really we have Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson to thank.

Eric Campos (filmthreat.com) said, “Not even the teaming of Wilson and Stiller can save this one. Actually, I think they’re the main problem. The chemistry between the two…well, there is no chemistry.”

No way, Campos. Granted I’m not a big fan of either actor, but when the two united for this particular movie – it worked. Other critics nailed it:

“But Stiller, the ever-neurotic narcissist, and Wilson, the stoner who came in from the surf, have enough comic chemistry to keep the thing bobbing on top of the water.” Jack Matthews (nydailynews.com)

“Starsky and Hutch are tethered to a harness of buddy-movie clichés, but their congeniality comes from the actors’ chemistry, demonstrated in several previous films together.” Elvis Mitchell (New York Times)

“…their teamwork is now as polished as fine oak.” Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)

“Though Stiller and Wilson may be today’s most overexposed actors, they have infectious chemistry here.” Mike Clark (USA Today)

In September of 2001, I exchanged email with David Soul, the original actor who played Hutch in the TV series. I told Soul I believed the original actors should have been reunited with their characters in the new movie. I still believe it would have worked, though Soul and Glaser do make a cameo in the film. Warner Brother’s made a huge mistake by not formulating a story that would involve all four actors throughout the movie. Fortunately, this movie still kind of worked. Ben and Owen hold their own and I look forward to a few more wacky episodes on the big screen.

J.R. Jones (chicagoreader.com) summed the movie up best: “Stiller and Wilson are still hilarious as the supercool detectives — there hasn’t been a comedy duo this good since John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Even when the material falters, the movie glides along on a sincere love of 70s TV action, accurately scaled to the modest level of rolling over car hoods and racing up fire escapes.”

Ok. Now bring on “The Six Million Dollar Man!”

– CRITIC DOCTOR




Posted on March 22, 2004 in Features by

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