Disco Boys in Blue
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson show us the lighter side of ’70s TV cops.
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Through-the-floor-funny update on the popular ‘70s TV show infuses cheesy disco music with witty comic surprises as undercover cops Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Hutch (Owen Wilson) go after their local cocaine kingpin, Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn, Swingers).
Stiller and Wilson are far less serious than their television role models (Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul) but still drive the hell out of the souped-up Ford Gran Torino muscle car that boosted the show’s visual appeal. Snoop Dog revises the role of Huggy Bear (originally played by Antonio Fargas) to audience delight, and Will Ferrell elicits laughs as a prisoner with a penchant for odd visual arousal. Set in a fictional town called “Bay City,” the movie makes great physical use of its cast and breaks comic convention at several turns. Better than the Charlie’s Angels movies for its cohesive tone, Starsky & Hutch is a bawdy and enjoyable ride.
Unfortunately, if you’re seen the over-exposing trailer for Starsky & Hutch, then some of the film’s best jokes will be spoiled. But if you’re going into the movie cold, you’ll have the pleasure of being surprised by some perfectly set up comic gags that hinge on Owen Wilson’s and Ben Stiller’s jittery alliance of straight man/funny man routines. Stiller’s Starsky is a tightly wound undercover cop who takes his job and driving way too seriously, while Wilson’s Hutch is a late-sleeping skirt chaser with little more on his mind than having a good time all of the time. The duo’s unpredictable camaraderie sometimes slips into naive homoerotic territory, as when the two cops wear hand towels around their waists while shaving side by side in their precinct locker room. This comic thread finds its zenith when Starsky mistakenly takes a large dose of odorless cocaine and enters a madcap disco contest that tests all sorts of diverting boundaries. Stiller (Zoolander) exploits the opportunity to push his talent for physical comedy to its utmost while Hutch and their dates (Amy Smart and Carmen Electra) look on in disbelief.
Screenwriter Scot Armstrong (Road Trip and Old School) invents a new variety of comic surprise by pulling back when you expect him to go for the kill, but going over-the-top in creative scenes that bespeak more subtext than you expect. The film’s neutered violence reflects the coded mores of ‘70s television with a dose of “Pink Panther”-infused crack-up added.
It’s this brand of innocent foolishness that director Todd Phillips (Old School) taps to simultaneously up the stakes on comedy and action over the course of the movie. The protocol casting of Vince Vaughn as the lubricated family man/drug lord works well because of Vaughn’s genuinely intoxicated take on his volatile character. Snoop Dogg hits another movie homerun with his evenhanded take on Huggy Bear as a sleek dude with more trust in his ‘70s hairdo than Peter Jackson had in winning an Oscar this year.
Starsky & Hutch [3 stars]
Directed by Todd Phillips
Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Vince Vaughn
(Rated PG-13, 97 mins.)