Film Review – Stuber
I’ll say this much: Stuber (2019) did make me laugh…occasionally. The setup is your classic odd couple pairing, in which two completely separate personalities – this time being Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista – are forced to work together for a single goal. On paper, the idea of the hulking Bautista and the nebbish Nanjiani sharing the screen is promising. It’s also a plus that we have two non-white performers headlining a studio-backed comedy. Representation and diversity are always a good thing. Unfortunately, they’re stuck in a movie that seems to operate in contrast to their potential.
Written by Tripper Clancy and directed by Michael Dowse, the narrative portrays two opposing sides of masculinity. On one end we have Bautista playing the muscular, tough guy Vic Manning, a police officer who has become obsessed with capturing the elusive criminal Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais). On the other is Nanjiani, who plays Stu, a hardware store employee who also moonlights as an Uber driver. Early on, we find Stu completely stripped of his self-confidence, fantasizing over a woman (Betty Gilpin) so much that he’s willing to stake his money in her business ventures in hopes of winning her heart.
So how does a cop of Vic’s pedigree rely on Stu to drive him around in an Uber car? The writing comes up with the preposterous twist of having Vic get Lasik eye surgery, blurring his vision. At the same time, he gets a hot tip of Tedjo’s whereabouts, and thus has to rely on Stu to drive him around to follow the lead and interrogate witnesses. The circumstances of Vic and Stu coming together is frankly stupid. Let’s forget the possibility that Vic could call anyone in the police department to help him out, instead relying on a cowardly stranger to help him solve his case. And on Stu’s side, I guess it doesn’t occur to him that Vic’s vision is impaired, meaning he could simply walk away from the whole ordeal. But his desire to get with the woman he loves forces him to continue in a predicament that could very well get him killed.
Bautista and Nanjiani do have chemistry, and the comedy that the two share often induces a laugh. Bautista’s serious, straight-faced delivery worked in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, and it works again here in comparison to Nanjiani’s more expressive style. They take their opposing sides of masculine behavior and flip it. Vic has to open up and show his more vulnerable interior, especially when it comes to his relationship with his daughter (Natalie Morales). Stu has to learn to stand up and believe in himself, not having to rely on other people for his own personal happiness. Bautista and Nanjiani are a joy to watch, and I hope this isn’t the last time they work together.
Sadly, the writing and direction do not keep up with our performers. The story is yet another predictable copy of every odd couple/buddy cop movie that has ever been released. It flows by in short episodes where Vic and Stu follow a clue, get caught in a fight or shoot out, and then manage to escape in the nick of time. There are mild surprises along the way, but they are few and far between, and can be deduced long before they are revealed. Also, there is a strange uncertainty in how the violence is depicted. At times, we will get caught in a battle where people are brutally shot or hit by a car, but they are done almost as an afterthought. The film is rated R, but it seems oddly reluctant about its violence. Either don’t have any of it or embrace it with open arms, sitting in the middle does no good for anyone.
I guess the point about violence doesn’t really matter, given how poor the direction and cinematography are in depicting it. Once again, we are given a movie where action is promised but is captured with little coherency. The camera shakes so violently that we can barely see what’s happening. “Shaky-cam” offers the sensation of action but does nothing when it comes to clarity. An opening action sequence is so poorly shot that we no sense of geography. In the scene, we have two characters shooting each other while two other characters are having a fist fight in another room, but the picture is so blurred and erratic that it all could be happening in the very same location. Dave Bautista is an accomplished professional wrestler before he became an actor, and Iko Uwais is one of the top international stars when it comes to martial arts. And yet the direction gives neither of them the opportunity to showcase their physical gifts. There is not one action beat that stands out, not one moment that will leave a lasting impression.
With the talent on display, Stuber should have been a better movie. But the comedy is drowned out by a forgettable story and lackluster action. The movie doesn’t leave you wanting more but instead makes you think, “that was it?”