Synopsis – A detective recruits his Uber driver into an unexpected night of adventure.
My Take – Back in the 80s and 90s, the sub-genre of buddy comedy films was one of the hottest success formulas around. It was quite simple to make actually – cast two actors with mismatched personalities, who would have polar-opposite reaction to every situation and throw them into action oriented set up, all the while providing plenty of life lessons and learning opportunities for both characters.
This films, when done right, successfully managed to click with the audience, no matter what the critics said. Films like ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Rush Hour’ are two classic examples, whose success turned them into gold making franchises. However, after a point, like the genre of romantic comedy, this set up too began to wear out, with every new release crashing and burning.
That is until the excellent ’21 Jump Street’ films brought back a brief resurgence, only to disappear once again from the big screen, with newer releases preferably relegated to VOD and online streaming services only.
However, this Michael Dowse (Goon) directed film, clearly hopes to change that, as even though it hinges on a very modern conceit, the film absolutely feels like a throwback.
Honestly, there’s not that much here that you haven’t seen before, other than being made for the obvious nostalgic sentiment, nevertheless it does manage to offer a surprising amount of fun especially in the form of the undeniable chemistry between its leads.
Without a doubt, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista are the kind of pairing you’d happily watch adapt a variety of film genres, as the odd pairing riffs through every lull in the plot. They’re a dynamic duo that keep the chuckles coming, making the film much more entertaining than expected.
The story follows Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), an average citizen who works days at a sporting goods store, and in his off hours drives for Uber, all in the hope to save enough money to help Becca (Betty Gilpin), the woman he loves, who, naturally, views him as a platonic shoulder to cry on, open a spin class studio.
However, a series of poor experiences with shitty passengers has left Stu’s driver reputation hovering dangerously close to the point where the ride share company will suspend him from the platform with one more subpar rating and it’s the end of the road for him.
Elsewhere, LAPD detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) has been on the trail of drug trafficker Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais) for a long time, and has been stalling out on his attempts to get his vengeance for his deceased partner, Sarah Morris (Karen Gillan).
This pursuit has estranged Vic from his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), a burgeoning artist. A classic example of this would be how Vic also happened to schedule his much-needed Lasik on the same day as the opening of her first gallery show. Nevertheless, in order to ensure he at least makes it to her show, Nicole books him an Uber ride using his phone.
Unfortunately, for Vic, right out of the surgery, gets a hot tip about deal involving Tedjo. Unable to drive without his normal eye sight, Vic calls in the Uber with Stu behind the wheel, to chauffeur him around the town, whose hope for a five-star rating becomes a drive to survive, right just when Becca needed comforting after a breakup with a star athlete.
While the setup bears a passing similarity to Michael Mann‘s white-knuckle thriller Collateral, the execution shares more in common with buddy cop staples like 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon. Director Michael Dowse and writer Tripper Clancy‘s breezy premise turns the film into a road trip around the L.A. area, with each new destination punctuated with another comedic exchange between the intimidating Vic and the ‘I just want to be with Becca’ Stu.
Unlike so many recent comedies, the film avoids the mistake of overstaying its welcome, clocking in at a brisk 93 minutes. It’s a bit slow out of the gate, thanks to the necessary table setting required to drive its central premise, but once the leads finally connect, it makes up for lost time with an overload of laughs and a healthy dose of bloody, cartoonish violence.
Part of why it resonates like a visually upped, 90’s film is that it carries a simplicity to its action. However, other than the frenetic opening sequence, most of the action scenes play second fiddle to the comedic interactions between opposites Vic and Stu.
The film is certainly at its best when Vic and Stu are riffing off of each other, especially in the cozy front seat. It truly is about two guys that do not want to be together, but feel bound to each other after experiencing so many mishaps together. For however much they eviscerate each other with jabs, to your pleasure, they push each other to grow.
The film addresses the nature of masculinity and is seemingly always fully aware when its male characters are being terrible, also finds time to deal with them on a human level. For example, Stu offers Vic a chance to show how hurt he has been due to loved ones lost, and Vic offers Stu the opportunity to go for the love he wants. The results are hypnotic and humorous.
It’s a bit of a throwback to old buddy films, but also provides a contemporary take on rogue cops, romance and masculinity. Sure, it’s no Lethal Weapon, but the banter between the two provide quite a few entertaining moments.
While the film’s generally amusing, and there are some good laughs to be had throughout, it’s just not hilarious. A film like this, where the action side is so dark, needs that dichotomous balance to be even. Which means the film really needed to bring the comedy big time, right up to the edge of over-the-top without passing it. Yet, for some reason, it keeps its comedy side at a kind of reserved level.
Even more disappointing is the utilization of The Raid star Iko Uwais as the dealer who inadvertently sets the entire chase in motion. It’s quite baffling why anyone would take one of the most talented martial artists working in cinema today and toss him into a role so underwritten. Even the female characters has no substance despite casting three likable actors in the form of Mira Sorvino, Betty Gilpin, Karen Gillan and Natalie Morales.
While Jimmy Tatro does manage to bring in some laughs, in the end the success of the film lands completely on Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani and their undeniable chemistry. Former wrestler Bautista has already proven himself a more than capable comedic presence as Drax, deadpan alien in the Guardians of the Galaxy universe. While Nanjiani, a fantastic stand-up comedian, managed to be the only truly funny part of Men in Black: International.
Together, the actors feed off each other’s energy with good comic timing. Vic, the embodiment of masculinity, is constantly at odds with Stu’s nurturing, effete life outlook. This conflict of personas becomes endearing as the film progresses. The barbs, pratfalls, and bloody violence build to a strong camaraderie.
Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani are extremely likeable protagonists. Their casting was an inspired choice. On the whole, ‘Stuber’ is a likable action comedy which acts as a great vehicle for the talents of Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani.
Directed – Michael Dowse
Rated – R
Run Time – 93 minutes