5. Starsky & Hutch (2004)
After working under the Dreamworks banner for the first two theatrically released features of his career, Todd Phillips moved on to Warner Bros for his third film, Starsky & Hutch, beginning a long-running association with the studio that would go on to produce 7 of his next 8 films.
Capitalising on the beloved screen partnership of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson – one that had reached its apex with Zoolander in 2001 – to get his film made, and proving his worth as a fan of the original series through references to the original material both within his screenwriting and within his direction, Todd Phillips offered an honourable if unspectacular adaptation, a fun and witty if forgettable entry into early 2000s comedy.
By Starsky & Hutch, Phillips had already formed a long list of star names he could be associated with (and vice-versa), Old School actors Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell returning here in prominent roles, with Juliette Lewis also following over from that film and Amy Smart returning after collaboration on Road Trip, each in smaller roles. On paper – from the subject to the star power and right through to the creative team – Starsky & Hutch seemed like a breakaway comedy hit, but it came just on the cusp of the Will Ferrell revolution of improvised comedies, and a decade too early for the hefty adaptation cycle we’re still in. Todd Phillips would have to wait a further five years for his true breakout moment…
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4. Due Date (2010)
Quickly following the first mega-hit and cultural landmark of his directorial career, Due Date was all of Todd Phillips’ most obvious qualities put to screen all over again, this 2010 road movie sharing the same visual prowess and big screen presence as The Hangover.
Loosely adapting the odd couple road movie dynamic that has existed for almost as long as cinema itself and was perfected in the eyes of many by John Hughes on Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Todd Phillips was able to not only capitalise on the added intrigue in his filmography post-Hangover by signing Robert Downey Jr in the prime of his career (only one year removed from Iron Man and his Oscar-nominated turn in fellow comedy Tropic Thunder), but he was also able to use the sub-genre to make reference to the films of his early career: the road movie narrative borrowed from Road Trip; the odd couple dynamic present in Starsky & Hutch; and of course Zach Galifianakis playing a relatively similar character archetype to that of Alan in The Hangover.
There is no doubt that sometimes Due Date creeps into Hangover Part III territory in terms of cheap laughs and poorly constructed comic bits, but the ever-present arrogance and angst of Robert Downey Jr does wonders to hold it together and Zach Galifianakis remains as watchable as ever, their relationship dynamic ensuring there’s a truth to the at-times ludicrous narrative they exist within.
As a lesser The Hangover, Due Date succeeds, and were it not for comparisons to Phillips’ prior film, Due Date may have proven more memorable. As it stands there are more important films in Todd Phillips’ filmography, and better ones too.
Todd Phillips Cameo: Plays Heidi’s (Juliette Lewis’) protective and invasive boyfriend, making fun of Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) for his perm.
3. Old School (2003)
In Todd Phillips’ Old School, a group of early 30-somethings try to reconnect with the excitement and freedom of their younger days, setting up a college fraternity and undergoing all the trials and tribulations of your average college student whilst dealing with the societal pressures and self-awareness that their age has brought. Of its time politically, comically and stylistically, but typically a Todd Phillips film in how it remains rooted in good values and hearty Americana, Old School still seems like one of the filmmaker’s most personal films, the narrative being one that somewhat mirrors Phillips’ own experience in revisiting his college days in his late twenties for his debut film Road Trip.
Sharing a lot of the aesthetic principles of his debut feature – such as being shot on traditional celluloid and holding the same grainy, filmic presence that even his later digital films would boast – and proving very effective in disguising the limits of his budget and production to the point of it being barely noticeable how most of the film is set in one house, Old School was one of the best examples of (and partly responsible for) the 2000s sub-genre of comedies about men being freed of domesticity.
In retrospect, Old School feels a little like a hangover from the late 90s films of suburban revolution, such as American Beauty, Fight Club and Office Space, and it certainly does centre on a story of mild revolution against “the man”, offering a voice to the day’s youth, but all these years later it remains enjoyable for its almost immaculate pacing, memorable performances (particularly that of Will Ferrell prior to his breakout years), and savvy filmmaking.
Even in the concept of Old School as a film – a group of men returning to college for one last go around in a revolt against what they’re expected to do, made by a group of men returning to the college frat boy sub-genre of comedy for one last go around in a revolt against what the studio system expects them to do – there’s parody to be found, and more importantly for this list there is evidence of a highly intelligent and capable filmmaker.
Todd Phillips Cameo: Turns up at Mitch’s (Luke Wilson’s) house for the “gangbang” Mitch’s wife Heidi (Juliette Lewis) had organised and had been caught out taking part in.