Buddy comedy capers take a swing into the ridesharing age in Michael Dowse’s Stuber. A part-time Uber driver picks up a detective with a criminal on his radar. What ensues is a long day’s work of explosive shenanigans, an “I love Ryan Gosling” tweet, an overwhelming ad for sriracha hot sauce and an ironic dish at masculinity. These things normally would not work together if not for the exceptional dynamic of its two leads. An odd couple pairing like Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) works better than one would expect. Bautista’s brawny, serious, alpha male character, Vic, is funnily challenged by Nanjiani’s Stu, an antsy retail worker who just needs a viable 5-star rating to keep his ideal livelihood afloat.
Stuber has a lot of great comedic moments, even a few belly laughs sprinkled in. What works best is its advantage and reliance on the two leads. Nanjiani, who carries some impressive comedy chops to boot already, rises to the physicality of his costar, but also creates the film’s best moments around the former WWE wrestler. Bautista, having starred in Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner 2049, takes another dip into film, this time as an active leading man (although it’d be nice to see him stretch his dramatic muscles moving forward). At the heart of Stuber is a well equipped duo, the kind you’d need to spend a day with to cozy up to. The film is a decent amount of fun, offering forgettable set pieces (except you, sporting goods store scene) and absurd hilarity. The only thing weighing down the comedy is its poor form in story meat and the regard to a fizzled out love story for Stu, which becomes increasingly trivial.
As the film opens, Vic and his partner, Detective Morris (Karen Gillan), attempt to ambush and arrest high profile drug lord Oka Tedjo (Iko Wais). In a heated chase down crowded streets, Tedjo manages to escape, but not before lethally injuring Morris in the shuffle. As time has passed, Vic is tentatively searching for leads. He’s on the beaten path of being work obsessed and it seeps into a barely tended relationship with his adult daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales). Vic schedules a Lasik eye surgery on the day of Nicole’s sculpture art showcase, and it also happens to be the day he receives intel on Tedjo’s next move. Shortly out of surgery and visually disoriented, Vic grabs his car keys and heads out. He’ll only need to rapturously drive through mailboxes and construction sites before finally calling an Uber to take him to Tedjo’s whereabouts.
That lucky Uber driver driver would be Stu (how do you do?). Nanjiani’s performance has a way of letting his character pick up the pieces to his own misfortunes. Stu leaves his frustrating day job to make extra money driving people around. He has plans to cosign on a spinning gym with his friend Becca (Betty Gilpin), the object of his desired affection, but is finding it hard to reveal his feelings for. He needs to keep his five-star rating intact and Vic hopping into his car is proving to be an obstacle to that goal. Where Bautista’s physical performance pays off is seeing him clash and fumble in dazed fashion. He’s still limited by his dilated pupils and will be for some time. Stuber takes its chops at this ongoing gag, finding new ways to play up Stu and Vic’s rollercoaster camaraderie and how they often come to depend on one another.
Eventually, the script addresses their personal masculinities. Vic antagonizes Stu for not owning his feelings for Becca. The subplot featuring Becca’s unbeknownst exclusion of Stu’s affection is sour to say the least. According to most of the film, Becca lives in a cell phone, only ever ringing in to need/use Stu until the gig is up. Nanjiani, always a natural, delivers in Stu’s quippy jabs at Vic, calling his toxic masculinity out for not having the relationship he should be mending with his daughter. Both characters reside on opposite parts of the spectrum, conventionally, but together they make up an interesting take for a big studio comedy to land. It becomes admirable to see the story dig at masculine layers and it works to improve Vic and Stu as fleshed out characters (that is, until they’re at each other’s throats tripping on camping gear and swinging golf clubs around).
Stuber may be half-earned high jinks but it’s still a comedy ripe for the summer. The fact that its two leads are South Asian and Southeast Asian is a swift credit to the film and seeing it roll into theaters is a delightful win, respectively. Dowse’s film itself packs some punch, but it’s mostly forgettable. Even the sequences with Uwais (The Raid 2) leave more to be desired for the popcorn action genre. The action story elements run dry too soon, seeing as even Vic’s superior, McHenry (an underutilized Mira Sorvino), gets an unaffecting course after seeming to have close ties to his family. For what it’s worth, Stuber hinges on its smart duo, a charismatic buddy cop coupling that’s sure to create uproarious chuckles in the theater. For a simmering July outing, that’s just enough to be entertaining.
Directed by: Michael Dowse
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Iku Uwais, Mira Sorvino, Karen Gillan