A film review by Craig J. Koban July 28, 2019

STUBER jjj

2019, R, 105 mins.

 

Kumail Nanjiani as Stu  /  Dave Bautista as Vic  /  Iko Uwais as Teijo  /  Natalie Morales as Nicole  /  Karen Gillan as Morris  /  Mira Sorvino as Chief

Directed by Michael Dowse  /  Written by Tripper Clancy

 

 

 

STUBER - which takes its name as an amalgam of the name of one of its lead characters and the world famous ride sharing company - is another in an awfully long line of throwback buddy cop action comedies that feels like it's made of regurgitated parts from countless other films.  It wallows in a considerable amount of formulas and conventions, not to mention that its premise, on paper, is pretty silly.  

Still, STUBER is modestly entertaining and sometimes hilarious because of the effective odd couple and fluid comedic chemistry of the hulking Dave Bautista (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and his vastly smaller co-star in Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK), and they both make for an effective and appealingly offbeat duo.  Both actors find ways to make this cockamamie material somehow work and generate decent and sustained laughs, which helps quite a bit when the screenplay they occupy offers up ample nonsensical lunacy. 

Nanjiani plays Stu, an easygoing and affable sporting good retail store clerk by day and a five star rated Uber driver by night (hence, the film's odd title).  He doesn't plan on driving strangers around forever, though, seeing as he's saving up enough money to become a business partner with his friend Becca (Betty Gilpin), who wants to open a fitness club with him.  There's one complication: Stu has a deeply secretive crush on Becca, which is seriously clouding his personal and economic judgment.  Nevertheless, Stu takes to his nocturnal occupation with a slick professionalism, despite the fact that many of his passengers are anti-social nightmares that - if ticked off - will threaten his five star rating on the app.  Stu remains sweet tempered and a beacon of positive vibes with his chin always up, but he's also seriously spineless in terms of failing to fess up to the woman he loves on top of having most other people around his small inner circle incessantly bossing him around.  

 

 

Stu's life changes forever when he picks up what initially seems like a routine fare in Detective Vic (Bautista), who very quickly barks at him to take him to the location of a very dangerous drug lord (Iko Uwais), who was single handedly responsible for the murder of his partner in the past.  Now, you may be asking why doesn't this detective just drive himself?  Well, it's because he's...blind...actually, just temporarily as a result of Lasik surgery to correct his vision in order for him to abandon glasses forever.  Contrived plot conveniences aside, Stu begrudgingly acquiesces to Vic's demands, who promises him a very high review to preserve his ever decreasing star rating, but when Vic's ability to apprehend this madmen fail at every turn, Stu finds himself becoming an impromptu partner/chauffeur for this determined detective.  And with Vic's lack of eyesight a serious hindrance on performing his duties, he too realizes that he's going to need Stu to nab his prey once and for all. 

STUBER has a fairly well oiled, surprisingly violent and chaotic opening sequence that shows Vic and his partner (played by fellow GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY star Karen Gillan, nice touch) hot in pursuit of the aforementioned drug kingpin, which results in a series of hard hitting fight sequences (albeit, done with a bit too much shaky cam for my tastes) that doesn't really hint at the slapstick shenanigans to come in the story.  It's pretty rare for a buddy cop film to open so disturbingly, especially when the story later gives way to more light hearted fare.  I think this creative choice was done for two reasons: To showcase Bautista as both a rugged action star and later as a solid on screen comedian that's not afraid to make himself look preposterous.  The star has a frank, monosyllabic gruffness and raw physicality that's matched well by his deft comic touch.  He reminds me a lot of Dwayne Johnson during his early movie days, and he most certainly has a future in the movies. 

Bautista's monstrously muscle bound visage is a perfect visual counterpoint to the pint sized Nanjiani, whose mild mannered and deeply neurotic do-gooder serves as the straight man and audience conduit for all of the unbridled insanity that befalls on this pair of misfits.  Nanjiani also has this impeccable knack of making even the most stiff dialogue feel like grade-A deadpan zingers, and the matter-of-fact manner that he comments on the sheer ridiculousness of every thing that transpires in the film helps score STUBER some of its best laughs.  And, yes, Bautista and Nanjiani's partnership is born on one of the oldest clichés of the buddy cop movie of two people from polar opposite ends of the gene and culture pool being forced to come together to overcome their differences and form a tight unit.  Yet, the actors are so good together that they elevate the stale conventionality of the script.  They're radically different as on-screen personalities, but both are equally as effortlessly likeable. 

STUBER is far from being a speed bump-free ride, and many elements frustratingly hold it back, especially a series of subplots that don't add as much dimension and flavor to the story as much as the writers think they do.  There's a recurring arc featuring Vic's tension filled relationship with his daughter, stemming from him being a cop workaholic and simply is never there for his kid when he needs to be (this is one the oldest and most recycled angles of cop films).  Then there's Stu's massive pining over Becca, the latter who never really comes off a a truly worthy or even agreeable person in his life.  She seems like a self-cantered egotist that likes to use Stu for casual sex when she's emotionally vulnerable and in need, but only on her terms.  Gilpin is quite good in the film as her wine guzzling woman in need that has no idea that she's constantly holding Stu in the friend zone, but their whole friendship and the places it goes in the film is the stuff of routine TV sitcoms.  And don't get me started on Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (!?) in an aggravatingly underwritten role as Vic's superior that utterly wastes her proven talent. 

You know, in writing this review thus far I'm starting to wonder why I'm even recommending STUBER with a three star rating.  It's dumber than a bag of hammers and basically feels like a buddy cop film on pure autopilot.  However, it's certainly unpretentious dumb fun that knows exactly what it is and it rarely overstays its welcome like so many other recent comedies (at a lean and mean 90 minutes, it's anything but bloated).  That, and I simply really liked what Bautista and Nanjiani brought to the table here, with both actors never shying away from the blood soaked slapstick hijinks that they find themselves in throughout (the film is also very appropriately rated R for its potty mouth and violence, but it never wallows in being tastelessly crass and amoral).  And these actors made me laugh frankly more than what I was expecting going in.  The genre bar is not set high with STUBER, but it's still a pretty efficient and amusing, not to mention that it's also refreshing to see a decent action comedy headlined by lead actors of multiple ethnicities, which aren't a dime a dozen these days.   

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