TBT – Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Ben Stiller, Jason Bateman, Owen Wilson, TBT, television, Will Ferrell

My sister’s wedding is getting ever closer so I’m not exactly focused on the blog this week. There’s a lot of sorting, cleaning and final mad panic buys going on round here that I’ve been a bit lazy with my selections this week. High-Rise was something I’ve had on my list for ages and I watched it when I had a spare evening. My pick for today had even less thought behind it. Netflix suggested it to me last weekend and, as it’s been such a fucking age since I saw it, didn’t hesitate. Now, every week I try and get my Tuesday and Thursday posts to match up in some way: that might be by actor, genre or director but, as is usually the case, it’s based on whatever flimsy connection I can create. This weeks connection is the 1970s. Both of this week’s films are set in the 70s and that was enough of a connection to prevent me madly searching for a film set in a tower block or just watching the 90s adaptation of Crash. Neither of those things fit into my schedule or filled me with a massive amount of desire. So here we have it. A random film that you’ll probably all have watched many many times. It almost doesn’t seem worth bothering but when have I ever been known to listen to common sense?

Hollywood in the late 90s and early 2000s was definitely going through the time of Frat Pack: the name given to the group of comedy actors like Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. The guys placed into this group by the media would turn up together in films in any number of combinations and were constantly churning out films that are, at least now, beloved by fans. Starsky & Hutch came after a string of films like Old School, Zoolander and Meet the Parents and attempted to reboot the popular 70s TV show using the lure of the Frat Pack stars. With added Snoop Dogg oviously. Ben Stiller takes on the role of David Starsky from Paul Michael Glaser whilst his Zoolander co-star Owen Wilson stepped into David Sole’s shows as Ken Hutchinson.

The film’s plot is hardly anything to write home about but it was never really going to be. We see the two Detectives form an unlikely partnership as they attempt to bust a drug baron, Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), as he attempts to pull off the biggest drug deal ever seen. Along the way, they are given assistance from dodgy “businessman” and Hutch’s acquaintance Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) and a dragon obsessed convict (Will Ferrell). Obviously, things aren’t easy for the pair and their eventually have to go behind their captain’s back when they are inevitably suspended. It’s all very by the books for a buddy cop but fleshed out with a few in-jokes concerning the original series.

Still, that’s not to say the film isn’t funny. Yes, it doesn’t do anything to blow the genre wide open but it gives the performers enough room to work their comedy. Stiller and Wilson have just enough chemistry on screen to sell their characters and the hit-and-miss script. Their relationship is the same kind of thing that has kept them in business for years. Stiller plays the tightly wound and by-the-book Starsky whilst Wilson plays the cool and loose-moraled Hutch. It’s also the thing buddy cop movies have been know for: pair up two opposites and watch as they eventually work out their differences and capture the bad guy. It’s nothing too out of the ordinary but the pair work so well together now that it doesn’t matter.

Most surprisingly, of course, is the revelation that is Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear. Nobody would ever have described Snoop as a great actor but he does pretty well in the role. Yes, some of his stuff is a bit wooden but he offers some genuinely funny moments. Although, for my personal tastes, it is Will Ferrell’s Big Earl who offers the most memorable moment. The two cops go and visist Earl in prison and, in order to get him to talk, pretend to be sexy dragons to get him off. It’s a moment that absolutely killed me when I first saw the film and is something I reference far too regularly. Ferrell may be a tiny part of the film but, as is so often the case, he is definitely the greatest.

When it comes down to it, Starsky and Hutch isn’t really that inspiring a film but, thanks to the cast and a fairly charming script, it manages to update the tired television show into a modern film. The narrative is so flimsy it could break in a slight breeze but there can be no denying that the gags keep coming. Not all of them land as successfully as they’d like but you can’t fault it on sheer numbers. This is a quantity rather than quality kind of situation and, in spite of everything, it works. It’s not the greatest Frat Pack movie ever made but it’s still up there. I may not have watched it with as much regularity as Zoolander but it’s memorably enough to make me go back every now and then.

TBT – Zoolander (2001)

Ben Stiller, David Bowie, fucking funny, Owen Wilson, TBT, Will Ferrell

It’s hard to believe now that, upon its release in 2001, Zoolander wasn’t a great success. It suffered mostly from bad timing as it came out only a matter of weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Critics weren’t exactly wowed and audiences just didn’t flock to see it. However, it eventually made enough of an impact to become a much-loved classic. My friends and I are huge fans and have been for many years. We left our school leaver’s ball, aged 16, to go home and watch it. I really love the film. So when I found out that my work friend hated it I really didn’t know what to do. Especially when she told me her reason was that it’s “too silly”. What the fuck was she expecting? Hating Zoolander for being too wacky is like hating Jaws for having too much shark. It’s the whole fucking point of the film. So, I may have lost a new friend but it did give me an excuse to rewatch this classic.

Zoolander is Ben Stiller’s satirical look at the fashion industry and is absolutely hilarious thanks to its insights. The narrative follows veteran fashion model, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) as he comes up against newcomer, Hansel (Owen Wilson) and finds himself embroiled in a murder plot, whilst still trying to perfect his new look Magnum. There’s also a love interest, his coal-mining father, and a psychotic fashion designer involved but the plot is really by-the-by.  

What matters here is how Stiller and co. represent the industry that they are trying so hard to dissect, He and Owen Wilson nail the two male models at the centre of the story and Will Ferrell some of the most memorable moments thanks to his exaggerated fashion designer, Mugatu. Derek and Hansel were born out of that breed of 90s male fashion models known for their vacuous and vain sensibilities. It’s cruel in its own way but it’s incredibly funny nonetheless.

 Zoolander is a wacky and silly concept, it’s true. but it also offers some of the funniest writing Stiller has ever written. The results are often patchy but more jokes hit than they miss. The duds really don’t matter when the successes are as quotable and hilarious as these ones. Unlike the titular character, there is more to Zoolander than meets the eye and the seemingly stupid comedy has a darker and biting undertone to it. Everything on screen is based in some aspect of reality … but at least 3 times bigger.

The plot is perhaps pathcier and more rambling than it really wanted to be and feels like a bunch of shorts stitched together instead of a standalone narrative. The overall assassination plot is fun but it is at odds with much of the other work Stiller is bringing to the table. To say it’s only about 90 minutes long, this film feels too full whilst still managing to stretch its meagre plot to breaking point. It often just relies on celebrity cameos and quirky humour to get through. Had the film been a completely satirical look at the fashion industry it might have felt like a slicker film. However, it probably wouldn’t have been as funny.

Because, despite all of it’s problems, Zoolander is an incredibly funny and charming film. That’s mainly down to the cast of characters and the obvious love that went into making it. Just like Derek himself, you can’t help but love this film despite all of its obvious flaws. The chemistry between Stiller and Wilson and Will Ferrell in general are what has allowed this film to rise above it’s disappointing release and become the classic is deserved to be.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Zoolander No.2 (2016)

Ben Stiller, films, Kristen Wiig, meh, Owen Wilson, review, sequel, Will Ferrell

Any film that has such a huge fan base is rife for sequels that come along way after anyone really wanted on. We saw it with Anchorman 2 and now Zoolander 2. Although, I get it; it’s George Lucas syndrome. Something happens when you make something that people love and you’re really proud of. You cant leave it alone and want to carry on making something that so many people love. The problem is, people love it too much and will never be able to compare it to the original they’ve shrouded in so much nostalgia. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because Derek and Hansel are both fantastic characters. Of course, I will complain because when the time away has been so long it’s difficult to pick up where you left off.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what Ben Stiller tries to do. Zoolander 2 picks up right after the end of the first film with the revelation that “The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too” collapsed killing Derek’s wife, Matilda, and disfiguring Hansel. In light of this tragedy, both models retire from fashion and go into hiding. Along the way, Derek loses custody of his son and become a recluse and Hansel finds a family with his desert orgy. Obviously, that’s all about to change when the pair are drawn out of retirement to star in an up-and-coming designer’s new show in Italy. Turns out, Derek and Hansel no longer fit into the fashion world and are ridiculed as relics during the show.

Whilst in Rome they are brought on board in a current Interpol investigation concerning the mysterious deaths of a bunch of pop stars. In exchange for information on Derek’s estranged son, he agrees to hep agent of the fashion division, Valentina (Penélope Cruz). They trio then find themselves in a ridiculous Da Vinci Code style mystery that places Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) in danger and takes them into the seedy part of the fashion world and reintroduces them to Derek’s old nemesis, Mugatu. They also take some time along the way to ponder who they really are in a world of social media, transgender, and paternal responsibility.

Zoolander 2 tries so hard to remind its audience about the success of the original and, for that, we should applaud it. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are as comfortable in their roles as they were back in 2001 and they are still incredibly funny. Derek and Hansel have moved on emotionally since the events following the first film but are still as vain and self-centred as they always were. Which is basically all we really wanted. The pair still work really well together and the chemistry is just as wonderful as it was the first time round.

Although, the film is constantly being haunted by its predecessor. For the most part, the references to Zoolander do what they need to and create enough humour to keep people happy. However, there are scenes which are so reminiscent to ones in the original that it ceases to be a call-back and just comes across as desperate. At times it feels as though Stiller and co just hope to create humour by reintroducing characters that their audience know once did/said something funny.

There was a lot of potential to bring Derek and Hansel into this modern world. They were basically the social media kings before social media even existed. However, the element of the narrative relating to where they fit in is quickly swept aside for the next dozen wacky plot strands. I know the plot of the first film isn’t a fucking Shakespeare play but this is essentially just a bunch of sketches tied together using celebrity cameos and a flimsy overall story. Much of it just seems unnecessary and not funny enough.

Still, I didn’t hate this film. When it gets things right those things are really right. There are some genuinely funny moments and some great situations. I don’t know who suggested the Kiefer Sutherland idea but it’s one of the best things about the film. Likewise, the brief Susan Boyle cameo is fucking amazing. However, between those pieces of gold you have to wade through the shit like Katy Perry and Neil DeGrasse Tyson popping up just because they’re famous people. It doesn’t make sense.

Rather than having a well constructed sequel to a film that so many people love, we have something that feels rushed and relies too heavily on big names. I know the first one threw celebrities into the ring willy nilly but at least that left some room for characters to develop. It feels like everyone was just too busy to be involved here. Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell just aren’t used enough for my liking and their characters are wasted. Considering how important the pair were to the marketing of the film they added fuck all to it. Zoolander 2 is exactly like the main characters it portrays; it’s not very smart or polished and it’s far too narcissistic for its own good but you can’t help but like it. There is something so charming and fun about it that you won’t regret seeing it but it doesn’t have the staying power of the original. The script isn’t as quotable and the story verges even further into outrageously nonsensical territory.