‘Stuber’ Offers a Bumpy Ride (FILM REVIEW)


Stuber is the kind of movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. From the opening moments it reveals exactly what kind of movie it’s trying to be: a throwback to the classic mismatched buddy action-comedies from the 80s. 48 Hours is the clear source of inspiration here, though certainly it owes a debt to Lethal Weapon or even Red Heat, at least in terms of tone and set up.

Try though it might, however, it never reaches the level of its forebears. While not without some solid comedic moments and decent action, Stuber mostly feels like a pale imitation striving for greatness while achieving only mediocrity. It’s fine enough, on the whole, but near instantly forgettable and leaving you unfulfilled and wishing for something more.

It’s a testament to Stuber’s two stars—Dave Bautista, as the hardcore cop with a vendetta looking to solve a years-long mystery, and Kumail Nanjiani, as the hapless Uber driver who gets sucked into his world—that the movie finds any traction at all. The two make a fantastic, exceedingly unlikely duo, with each playing well off the strengths and weaknesses of the other. How unfortunate that the script, from writer Tripper Clancy, feels so undercooked.

Nanjiani is Stu, a hopeless sporting goods store employee who moonlights as an Uber driver in order to make some extra cash to help his friend, Becca (Betty Gilpin), start a spin-class studio. He’s unwittingly called into action by Bautista’s Vic Manning, a cop who’s hot on the trail of a criminal who has eluded him for years and who, of course, killed his partner. Manning, having just undergone Lasik surgery, needs Stu to drive him to speak to a contact with information he needs. Unfortunately for Stu, a simple fare becomes a daylong nightmare of mystery, intrigue, and explosions.

On paper it’s all perfect. Bautista and Nanjiani are so different as performers and look so absurd together as partners that the comedy almost feels inherent. Often times, it is. Manning is the kind of problematic, trope ridden character that would have been right at home in the heyday of 80s action glory. He grunts, he suppresses emotion, he disdains crying, and can barely maintain a relationship with his grown daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales). Stu, meanwhile, is the epitome of the modern liberal male. He wants to talk it out, believes in love, and is, in every way possible, the antithesis of Manning.

As great as the two are as a duo, the script has a hard time committing to what it wants to be. It pulls its punches in terms of both the action and the comedy, resulting in uneven execution of both. It’s certainly not easy to strike the proper balance of the two, but in this day of trope-bending and expectation-smashing action, much of the film falls flat and remains entirely too surface to make much of an impression.

Still, it is almost worth seeing just for the moments where Bautista and Nanjiani shine. After a borderline tedious opening act, the film does pick up when the two finally meet and their interplay, as familiar as it often is, occasionally reaches a magical point that you can’t help but laugh at and appreciate. If Stuber had leaned into itself a little bit harder, it might’ve been an uproariously quotable comedy for the ages.

Instead, it’s just fine. It’s 90 minutes of okay action and decentish comedy that, while not terrible, never finds the cinematic traction it’s searching for. It’s not so much that it’s worth avoiding as it is that it’s a ride you’ve already taken numerous times in the past. Even if you enjoy it this time around, it’s bound to remind you of the times when this premise worked so much better than it does here.

Stuber is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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