Thursday, July 29, 2004

Starsky & Hutch

Y'know, even though he's a bit overexposed, Ben Stiller is a national treasure. As a kid I was a faithful watcher of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, and so I saw Stiller's parents, Ann Meara and Jerry Stiller (I even knew how to spell "Meara" without looking it up!), a lot. I loved their back and forth humor; no one had an act quite like that. And they could spin off effortlessly into a skit, complete with accents and everything, and then back to their act. I was always happy when they were announced as the guests.

So when Ben Stiller got a TV show all those years ago, I rolled my eyes inwardly thinking it was yet another Hollywood brat getting a break due entirely to his parent's name(s). Like the Steely Dan song goes: "show business kids making movies of themselves, you know they don't give a fuck about anybody else, you know you go to ... Lost Wages [Las Vegas]." Every time I see another Hollywood brat get a career, that lyric blasts through my brain like an enema. Out of sheer laziness, I watched part of one of his shows and wasn't that impressed. It was a just-above-average parody and skit show, the mold for which was cast by SNL and just recently broken by Mad TV. Only the odd TV freak and presumably Stiller's parents mourned the show when it was cancelled.

He was OK in Reality Bites, but when he finally showed up in braces and that 70s hair in Something About Mary, his talent finally clicked. Even though he's made some average movies, I don't believe he's made a truly bad one, yet, which in itself is an accomplishment. Even more to the point, though, he's become one of those stars whose name on the bill will guarantee an audience and at least a few memorable scenes.

Starsky & Hutch doesn't really get the tone of the old TV show right, like both The Brady Bunch and even the Scooby Doo movies have. The only thing it does get right, outside of the car, of course, is the first scene where Starsky (Stiller) is chasing a crook across rooftops, and he stops and yells, "Halt! Or I'll shoot!" and immediately squeezes off about three rounds. I remember back in the day of the original show, we LOVED that, because of course no one could hear the command and stop before the bullets came flying. It was a "tuff guy" joke because Starsky & Hutch said those words only as a formality, kinda like reading the Miranda rights to someone unconscious, when they really just wanted to give them fatal lead poisoning.

Aside from that, the movie diverges wildly from the show. But in this case it works. For one reason, they play with the homoeroticism between Starsky & Hutch, and get it just perfect. This is about the only movie in memory where they get the balance precisely right (outside of the previously mentioned Brady Bunch where a girl is helplessly in love with Marsha, and Marsha - stuck in her 70s time warp - just doesn't see it, and thus inadvertently tortures the poor girl by being sweet in a way that just could possibly a reciprocation, but clearly isn't, like promises of sleepovers and stuff - It's hilarious to watch). It's clear that both the guys like the gals, but do stuff that is so gay, the jaw just drops. I predict the line, "Hey, I have hobbies. I work out." in response to Hutch's questioning of Starsky's masculinity after he cries just a little too long will become one of those catch phrases guys toss at one another as a clue to cowboy up.

There's one dancing scene that utterly does not work. It's actually painful to watch, and it yanks you out of the movie so completely, you wonder how pros like Stiller and Owen Wilson (Hutch) could've missed it. But, other than that, there's plenty of laugh out loud scenes, including a scene with mimes. Now, the mimes are less gratuitous than you'd think, because remember this was in the day where those famous 70s mimes Shields and Yarnell had a variety show (yes kids, an entire variety show where the stars didn't talk - the mind boggles, eh?), perhaps even on the same network as Starsky & Hutch. I think it was a clever nod to that fact.

At the end you see the original Starsky & Hutch - Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul - and the first thing you think is "Holy $h!t! David Soul looks terrible!" But then, when you get a closer look, you see he's simply aged. Paul Glaser still looks a lot like he did, though, which just makes the contrast all the more severe. It helps to remember that they are up there in age, since they were in their 30s on the show 30-some years ago.

Sadly, the luminous and quirky Juliette Lewis is relegated to a blink and you'll miss it gratuitous girlfriend role, which is like casting say Will Smith in a 5-line, walk-on boyfriend role where he's dropped by the leading lady in the first scene.

Oh, and yes, the new Hutch does sing "Don't Give Up on Us." It's a hoot. Check it out.

No comments: