In the 1970s, there was a long-running television show named Starsky & Hutch. It was a cop show about two police officers of polar opposite personalities as they go around trying to stop all of the crime in the city. This movie is essentially the same thing. It’s even set in the ’70s, which doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense because the original characters show up for cameos later on, but I suppose thinking of things like that would too much work for the people involved in its production. It’s a comedy; it doesn’t have to make sense.
The original series had Paul Michael Glaser play David Starsky and David Soul play Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson. Starsky was the slacker, Hutch was the intense one. The film, which details their very first mystery, reverses these roles. Starsky (now played by Ben Stiller), is super serious, while Hutch (Owen Wilson), is the one who doesn’t seem to care all that much. This is a buddy comedy, so they have to start off at odds with one another, although soon enough they’ll have to bond. That’s just how these things work.
The detective story: A body washes up on the beach, murdered, so the duo has to figure out who is behind it and bring that man to justice. We saw the murder take place early on, as the main villain, a drug trafficker named Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) shoots a man on his yacht after a job goes wrong. Of course, these cops aren’t the most competent people in the world, so it’s going to take us over an hour and a half for the plot to get resolved.
They get help from a colorful cast of supporting characters, like an informant named Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg), or a pervert in prison played by Will Ferrell. The problem is that so many of these things don’t seem to matter. It’s as if they could have skipped about half the movie and still reached the same conclusion. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if these individual scenes were funny, but this is a Todd Phillips movie, so there’s about as much chance of humor as there is the sun blowing up tomorrow. It could happen, but do you really think it’s going to?
Take a scene where Starsky unknowingly ingests enough cocaine to kill anyone not named Charlie Sheen. He, Hutch, and two females (played by Carmen Electra and Amy Smart), go to a disco, which leads to pretty much what you’d expect given one of the characters is so hopped up on drugs that his heart shouldn’t be able to take it. This is a scene that goes on and on, and none of it works. It’s okay when a joke falls flat on occasion, as long as once it fails, we move on. All of the scenes in this film seem to stay until they stagnate.
I suppose I’m just not a fan of anyone in this film, or their brand of comedy. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell — they all seem like good friends, and they like making movies together. They have similar brands of humor, and I’m rarely a fan. Todd Phillips is a director who has yet to make a movie I’ve liked. This was pretty much a DOA movie for me. It would have had to be exceptional for it to succeed, and it most definitely was not that.
It does do a fairly good job of paying homage to both the series from which it is adapted, and the ’70s in general. It’s not exactly a parody of that timeline, but it’s not playing it straight, either. It’s kind of an odd mixture. At times it seems to be doing everything with a wink and a nudge, but other times it’s so sincere in its approach that you want to give it a gold star for being such a good sport, even if it came in last place.
One of the main problems is that everything in the film seems to happen on a whim. The initial conflict between the two partners is resolved relatively early on; they become decent friends within the first 20 minutes. Then, out of nowhere, a blowup … which is then quickly resolved in a scene a few minutes later. Many of the scenes involving secondary characters happen, are resolved, and then are never brought up again — sometimes not even furthering the plot. It seemed like it was being made up as it went along, and whichever friend Stiller or Wilson brought to the studio that day would get his own scene.
I guess Stiller and Wilson do a fine job in their roles, and are occasionally amusing if not exactly funny. If you typically like them, they’ll entertain you here. Vaughn does not make for a very good villain, rarely appearing threatening or even terribly competent. Everyone else is inconsequential or not all that noteworthy. Even the cameo scene with the original two cast members lasts for far too long and has little real point except to extend the film an extra couple of minutes.
I really tried to like Starsky & Hutch but I just couldn’t get into it. It was grating and inconsequential, with a large portion of its running time just not mattering. If it was mostly funny, I wouldn’t have cared, but since it failed to make me laugh more than twice over 101 minutes, I can’t say it succeeded in being a good comedy. Even the “buddy” part of this buddy comedy — the most routine, formulaic part of the genre — fails at working properly, or even at all. This is a mess from start to finish.