Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Who could have anticipated that Snoop would be the saving grace of a major studio buddy flick?"

Starsky & Hutch

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Fred Williamson, Juliette Lewis, Jason Bateman, Amy Smart, Carmen Electra
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-03-05
Who's the man with that dance? (Snoop Dogg! Snoop Dogg!)
Who kick the khakis from his pants? (Snoop Dogg! Snoop Dogg!)
-- "From Tha Chuuuch to Da Palace"

What a difference a decade makes. In 2003, Newsweek used Snoop Dogg as their coverboy for "2 Violent" rap. En route to his murder trial, he stopped by the VMAs to declare, "I'm innocent," which was, in fact, the verdict. It was time for a change-up: Snoop left Death Row (with the help of a buy-out by Master P), made a not-so-good No Limit record, then a better one with Dre. Now he's starring in MTV's Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, rocking his own clothing line and driving a Snoop de Ville, crooning love tunes in Rio, and playing Huggy Bear.

Actually, Snoop doesn't so much play Huggy Bear as he plays himself. Because Starsky & Hutch is uneven, the throughline provided by Snoop's dry-drawly irony is especially welcome. He first shows up behind a desk, when bad boy Bay City Detective Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) brings his new, annoyingly by-the-book partner Starsky (Ben Stiller) round to meet his most informed "urban informant." With two burly bodyguards by his side, Huggy nearly charms the nervousness out of his guests, going so far as to not murder Starsky after he shoots the tail off his iguana. Where Antonio Fargas' Huggy Bear -- from the ABC series 1975-1979 -- was cartoonish and jittery (and gaudily dressed) in order to alleviate tv viewers' presumed anxiety about pimps, pushers, and thieves, Snoop's is a self-confident celebrity unto himself. Fo shizzle.

Alas, the smoothness only appears intermittently (as when the detectives enlist Huggy to go undercover as a caddy, with a most excellent Afro, fully at ease and utterly strange, while the white folks around him stumble and snipe at each other; this despite the fact that he's "wired" with a mic the size of a pistol). Mostly, the film goes in for hijinks of the Stiller-Wilson variety. That's not to say these are awful, but neither are they nuanced or particularly fresh. All vintage villainy and wah-wah guitar, "gay" jokes and gonzo zooms, Todd Phillips' first PG-13 movie (following the aggressively juvenile and R-rated Road Trip and Old School) makes repeated use of what's most obviously in need of parody -- the dated appreciation of sensitive macho swinging bachelors.

In this department, poor Starsky is ever running to keep up with Hutch's "natural" appeal (and the "good" blond hair that blows in the wind when they run in slow motion). Perpetually insecure, he seeks cool factors in accoutrements -- the big wool Peruvian sweater and the red Gran Torino with broad white stripes (and with this big machine, he scores, at least with Hutch). For his part, Hutch is careless, a rule-breaker when it's convenient, willfully ignorant of consequences. He's introduced during a heist in which he is one of the bad guys. Busted, he turns it around, pretending that he's been undercover the whole time. His cleverness annoys Captain Dobey (Fred Williamson), who bestows punishment by assigning him to movie-buddydom with hapless Starsky.

At this point, they happen on a Big Case, initiated when a body floats up on shore. They poke around, discovering that local mucky muck Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) might have something to do with the murder, and more elaborately, that he's selling a new sort of synthetic cocaine that's undetectable, and passed off as artificial sweetener. Darned if this doesn't lead to a time when Starsky ingests some accidentally, and misbehaves aggressively and more or less comically (shades of Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys II) on a disco dance floor (shades of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever).

Aside from such humdrum borrowings, the film presses its gag luck hardest with regard to the gay duo material, always just below the surface in the tv series. Here the boys gaze on one another quite adoringly and adorably, laugh and tumble on the beach, and date a couple of Bay City cheerleaders, Staci (Carmen Electra) and Holly (Amy Smart). This last might seem to mean the boys are straight, but really, it's only one more chance for serious nighttime bonding, especially when the coke overdose leads to Starsky's delirium and sweaty chills, such that Hutch must tuck him in and watch over him, gently.

If only things might remain so charming. But the team sets off to seek info from a hair-netted prisoner, Big Earl (Will Ferrell) with a singular interest in pretty boys doing nasty things: when he refuses to talk until Hutch lifts his shirt to show his navel (and more, so much more), the film comes to a weird stop, as if vaguely stymied by its own imaginings. The undercover version held (and yes, withheld) so many possibilities. The limits of these jokes are all too visible. Thank goodness, Huggy reappears -- first to change the plot's direction and second, to model an impressive multi-colored fur coat. Who could have anticipated that Snoop would be the saving grace of a major studio buddy flick?

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