Two of a Kind 

Starksy & Hutch is simple.

This is a movie about two police officers -- one ridiculously straight-laced and the other a charming, laid-back rule-breaker. At the beginning of this TV-cop-show spoof remake, they are terribly at odds with one another, but by the end they come to enjoy and respect each other. In between: a diabolical plot involving drugs and sexy women masterminded by an otherwise pillar of the community. Our dynamic duo is taken off the case, but they stay on it out of principle. All is revealed at a banquet hosted by the crime boss, and cameos from the original cast abound.

This movie is 1987's Dragnet. That movie, better than Starsky & Hutch by a yard, featured two skilled comedians playing (and never overplaying) to their strengths while generating real chemistry between them. Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks were the comics in question, and while I would have never guessed I would cite a minor amusement like Dragnet in any manner of journalism, here I am extolling the virtues of chemistry, laying a solid (if ludicrous) plot, a classy and accomplished supporting cast (Elizabeth Ashley, Christopher Plummer, Dabney Coleman), and a character called the Virgin Connie Swail.

Anyway, the plot is simple. Starsky & Hutch's plot, I mean. Charmingly corrupt cop Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is paired with David Starsky (Ben Stiller), a meticulous by-the-book officer of great repute but no respect. (He's the butt of departmental jokes.) Their first case is figuring out who killed a "reformed" ex-con, but it soon leads to a drug ring. Someone has developed a form of cocaine that looks and tastes just like artificial sweetener. The two don't get along at first -- especially when Hutch runs personal errands while on the clock, including a few visits to swanky informant Huggy Bear (played by Snoop Dogg, a working actor of questionable thespian merits but incalculable cool even when his shockingly thin, lanky body is stripped of his pimp-wear and replaced with garishly WASP-y caddy clothes). Hutch has a few other quirks too, including his less-than-professional investigation of this new cocaine and a tendency to relieve dead bodies of excess cash. Later, after chasing the sleazy drug kingpin Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn) through the streets of L.A. and one loving bat mitzvah, they finally square off at a charity benefit. A car chase ensues, and, well, there we go. Starsky & Hutch, ladies and gentlemen!

I liked Dragnet 17 years ago because I was 13. Watching Starsky & Hutch, I feel, at 30, too old to enjoy it. Or too young, perhaps. I was still in diapers when the '70s ended. (So I was 6. Don't judge me!) My awareness of eight-tracks, bell-bottoms, and men with perms is less nostalgic than kitschy. I was busy watching The Incredible Hulk, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and The Dukes of Hazzard. Ah, The Dukes of Hazzard Talk about nostalgia. Twenty years ago, I wanted to be Bo Duke. Twenty years later, I realize that I probably was more interested in marrying Bo Duke. Bo and Bo would be cute, don't you think? Except that we could come to be known, collectively, as "Bobo."

And speaking of homoeroticism (we were, weren't we?), they've got it aplenty in this movie. Yes, there's some sex in the film -- Hutch has an investigative threeway with cheerleaders played by Carmen Electra and Amy Smart -- but the real love story is between the two guys. And that's on purpose. The movie is at its funniest when it deals with these two guys trying to please one another and make amends when things go sour. Among the tongue-in-cheek precursors to their affection: accidentally wearing hand towels around the department locker room, Hutch crooning a sweet '70s guitar ballad on a double date (not to the ladies but to Starsky), and a conciliatory kiss on the cheek that definitely breaks what my roommate Jared would call the "Roommate Clause." Regardless, this works better with Wilson, who has an easy comedic charm that is both sexy and sincere while Stiller seems to be working overly hard, as in his most recent comedies like Along Came Polly.

Anyway, 2005 will see a remake of The Dukes of Hazzard, so I offer this advice: Save your money and steer clear of the '70s until you hear the distinctive horn of the General Lee.



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