Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Stuber is a buddy action/comedy that leans entirely on its stars for its entertainment value. The screenplay is not particularly clever, the filmmaking is not good and the action is poorly choreographed. However, its two leads are funny, so I did laugh a bunch of times. They have decent chemistry and really connect on the throwaway lines. They make it watchable, but they definitely do not make it good. There is only so much that could have been done with these one-note characters, a paper-thin plot and multiple pointless subplots. It is an occasionally amusing bad movie.
Dave Bautista is Vic, a cop who has spent years hunting a dangerous drug dealer. Kumail Nanjiani is Stu, an Uber driver with a crappy day job and a best friend who does not realize he is in love with her. Just after he gets Lasik, Vic gets information that his target has a big drug deal that night. Since he can barely see, he calls an Uber and unlucky Stu is the nearest driver. Odd couple humor, tons of plugs for Uber and way too many violent explosions follow.
Kumail Nanjiani is a very funny comic actor. His timing is fantastic, as is his dry delivery, allowing him to make even weak punchlines kind of work. He does that throughout Stuber. His character is involved in all sorts of lame running gags, yet he is able to bring a charm to the material that raises it above awful. A lot of actors can be really good with good material (Nanjiani proved more than capable stretching his acting muscles in The Big Sick two years ago). In a way, it is more impressive to see them survive bad material. This movie would have been absolute death without Nanjiani.
As his passenger, Bautista takes an ill-conceived character and gives him flashes of life. Vic is an angry, work obsessed jerk who does not understand technology and neglects his adult daughter. It is a remarkable collection of macho clichés. He also stumbles around a lot due to his temporary loss of vision. This is not funny the first time and gets progressively less funny each successive time. Bautista’s job in the role is to be grumpy and yell. He is pretty good at it. He is less successful at making his repetitive dialogue work. Now that his professional wrestling career is definitively over, he clearly seems to have a future in action movies. I am unsure about his future in comedies, though hopefully the screenplay will be significantly better for January’s My Spy.
Stuber (88 minutes without the end credits) stuffs so much in to distract you from how few ideas it has. In addition to the main plot, there is Betty Gilpin as Stu’s crush, who keeps drunkenly calling him, Natalie Morales as Vic’s daughter, who is putting on an art show she hopes her father will attend, and Mira Sorvino as Vic’s concerned superior officer. The story is so slight and short that it feels like this stuff was added just to pad out the running time, despite most of it leading nowhere interesting.
A bigger issue is its inability to set up a joke in a witty way. The punchlines are not as problematic, but the setups are so clumsy that the jokes do not land. It is the rare comedy that has to scramble to salvage nearly every gag. Bautista and especially Nanjiani do what they can to make things entertaining. Unfortunately, comedy needs momentum and Stuber, like Vic, keeps crashing into things.
2 out of 5
Kumail Nanjiani as Stu
Dave Bautista as Vic Manning
Natalie Morales as Nicole
Mira Sorvino as Angie McHenry
Betty Gilpin as Becca
Iko Uwais as Oka Tedjo
Directed by Michael Dowse
Written by Tripper Clancy