‘Stuber’ is short on plot and originality but long on buddy-comedy laughs
Directed by: Michael Dowse
Written by: Tripper Clancy
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Natalie Morales, Iko Uwais, and Mira Sorvino
“Stuber” – WWE fans have been wildly cheering and feverishly booing Dave Bautista, 50, since 2002, but this pro wrestler became an instant movie star in 2014 with Marvel Studios’ release of “Guardians of the Galaxy”. His portrayal of Drax the Destroyer offered a combination of massive brawn and perfect comedic timing that made Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Rock household names. Despite his formidable appearance, Drax flourishes as an accessible character with his frank honesty and nonexistent-awareness of nuanced conversation. It’s a charismatic concoction that should not be ignored.
Kumail Nanjiani, 41, is a comedian, and he may have felt ignored for years as he bounced around with one-time appearances on television shows and small parts in random movies like as a cable guy in “Hell Baby” (2013).
The “Silicon Valley” comedy series was Nanjiani’s big break, and he parlayed that success into a charming, relationship comedy “The Big Sick” (2017), a film that he co-wrote, so he properly fed himself loads of on-screen moments to drop his droll, observational humor.
Bautista and Nanjiani have worked for years in developing and thoroughly knowing their strengths, and since they finally hit cinema-success in their 40s and late 30s, respectively, they don’t waste any time pushing their strong suits in “Stuber”, a clashing-personalities, buddy comedy. Experienced moviegoers have downed this familiar movie-formula since the days of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, but it somehow morphed to include policeman/detective angles during the 1980s with “48 Hours” (1982), “Lethal Weapon” (1987) and “Midnight Run” (1988), to name a few.
Here, Vic Manning (Bautista), a police detective (naturally), is desperately trying to catch an elusive drug dealer named Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais). Sure, Tedjo is a bad guy, but he also killed Vic’s partner. With a fuse shorter than Herve Villechaize bending down to tie his shoe, Vic is in no mood to waste time or compromise, however, due to a very specific reason, he cannot drive.
That’s a tough pill to swallow in Southern California.
He needs a taxi or - as we say in 2019 - an Uber, and this is where Stu (Nanjiani) answers the call. Vic’s constant dependence on Stu and his Nissan Leaf is the glue that reluctantly bonds these two characters, as this impatient cop snaps at his unassuming driver to shuttle them all over Los Angeles - from Koreatown to Long Beach - to chase down Tedjo.
Well, you might be blinded by the continuous bombardment of police clichés that fill the movie’s 93-minute runtime. Which clichés? Vic’s boss (Mira Sorvino) wants to take him off the case, constant mentions about an impending drug deal, shootouts in seedy neighborhoods, and a strained relationship with a close family member because of the job. In this case, it’s between Vic and his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales).
Except for Morales’ positive screen presence, none of the other aforementioned elements contribute anything to the story. In fact, the background noise surrounding Vic and Stu almost feels like a designed parody, and its tone is caught in purgatory between farce and serious storytelling. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t connect with either one.
On the other hand, just about every moment between Vic and Stu does connect with good old-fashioned cheesy slapstick and sharp-witted verbal jabs. At the outset, the hulking Vic climbs into the car, and Stu comments, “Let me guess, you want me to drive you to all the Sarah Connors in the city.”
Since Vic’s actual bark with Stu is much worse than his bite, our driver shouldn’t feel too much danger from him…just from the surrounding gunplay and bloodshed. Okay, the arthouse-only crowd won’t be amused, but “Stuber” has a definite audience, as Bautista and Nanjiani’s natural chemistry serves up plenty of laughs.
So, never mind that you can see a typical double-cross coming from a mile away, and Tedjo does not utter more than a few syllables (if any) until the last 10 minutes of the third act. These problems don’t matter, right? Geez, Bautista and Nanjiani certainly know their strengths.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.