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Monday, March 08, 2004

 

Compare and Contrast: Starsky and Hutch and The Passion of the Christ



The Runaway Cinematic pain-train that is The Passion of the Christ continued its flogging of the domestic box-office this weekend, rumbling to a $51 million take, enabling the continuation of this tortured, extended metaphor. (Though the "train" certainly could have "screeched to a halt" had its fortunes been different, but I digress.)

Starsky & Hutch, the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson vehicle, (Ed. note -- how about the "little engine that couldn't topple Jesus?") opened in second place with $29 million.

Both movies got my money this weekend, setting up a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast the two films.

[**Spoiler Warning: This post contains information on key plot points of both films, including the fact that Jesus dies and comes back at the end. You've been warned.]

Heroes
Starsky & Hutch: Stiller and Wilson resurrect 70s cop show icons David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson. Stiller's Starsky is predictably uptight, nebbishy, and filled with impotent rage -- a fitting successor to the character he's played in Along Came Polly and Meet the Parents. Wilson's Hutch has all the surfer-dude, golden-boy, loosey-goosey charm of every surfer-boy, golden-dude, goosey-loosey charmer he's played to perfection in any number of previous roles. Hutch endures Starsky's high-strung kinetic energy with a cock-eyed smile and a twinkle in his eye. And the partners may or may not have partnered off-duty.

The Passion of the Christ: Angel Eyes star Jim Caviezel channels his mega-watted star power into the portrayal of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the central figure in the worship of billions of Christians. Washes the feet of his followers, loves and forgives his tormentors. Jesus endures two hours of beatings, torture, and cold-cocking with otherworldly stoicism, the twinkle in his eye hardly dimmed by the fact that it was swollen shut through most of the film. Buddy movie-type chemistry with Pontius Pilate. May or may not have partnered with Mary Magdalene (see The Last Temptation of Christ), whom he saved from an execution by stoning.

Villains
S&H: Vince Vaughn plays Jewish drug kingpin Reese Feldman with a combination of charm and malice. Implicated by director Todd Phillips in the murder of a sleazy associate. Will Ferrell is Vaughn's hairy, imprisoned associate Big Earl, who torments Starsky and Hutch by forcing them to perform sexually suggestive dragon poses.

Passion: Jewish elder Caiphas incites an angry to demand Jesus' crucifixion. Implicated by director Mel Gibson in the murder of the Son of God. An androgynous Satan figure stalks Jesus throughout his passion, taunting him with sexual-metaphor serpents and a disturbing, hairy baby.

Complicated Supporting Characters
S&H: Snoop Dogg reprises the role of Huggy Bear, iconic uber-pimp and police informer. He's a career criminal who helps the cops in return for autonomy in his illegal enterprises. Huggy steals a briefcase full of cash from drug lord Vaughn and buys Starsky a new Gran Torino.

Passion: Judas Iscariot, one of Christ's apostles, betrays him for thirty pieces of silver. He later commits suicide rather than use the ill-gotten funds to buy Jesus a donkey.

Comedy
S&H: Supposedly derived from uptight Starsky/laid-back Hutch dichotomy.

Passion: Supposedly derived from Mel Gibson's constant denials of Anti-Semitism juxtaposed with father Hutton Gibson's denial of the Holocaust.

Suffering
S&H: Nearly two hours of Director Phillip's ideas about comedic pacing; Juliette Lewis featured prominently in supporting role; Stiller's Starsky overdoses on cocaine, causing him to miss out on orgy with Hutch and two cheerleaders (played by Amy Smart and Carmen Electra) and lose disco dance-off to Har Mar Superstar.

Passion: Two hours of Jesus being ridiculed, whipped, flayed, kicked, spit upon, and pierced before being (by contrast) mercifully crucified.

Resurrection
S&H: Paul Michael "Original Starsky" Glazer and David "Original Hutch" Soul make a cameo at the film's coda, brought back from the semi-celebrity dead.

Passion: Jesus Christ rises from the dead three days after dying on the cross. This leads to the founding of one Catholic Church until the Great Schism in the 13th century AD got the ball rolling for the establishment of multiple sects of Christianity, including the funny ones with the dancing with snakes and the speaking of tongues.



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This is the internet home of Mark Lisanti, a Los Angeles writer sometimes known as Bunsen. He is the founding editor of Defamer, a weblog about Hollywood, where he now serves in the nebulous capacity of "editor-at-large."
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