There may not be much charm in the title Stuber—if you don’t have the pieces of the clumsy portmanteau pieced together from the trailer before going to the cinema, then it is a title likely to breed more confusion than chuckles. But there is some charm to the notion of an original buddy cop comedy within a Summer drought of failing franchise/reboot IP (Disney not included, at least not financially-speaking).
On paper, a comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani as a civilian trapped in the middle of a police investigation led by a tough-nosed Dave Bautista sounds like a comedic home run. And for some it will be the oasis in a desert of big budget drudgery.
But, in practice, something is lost in Stuber. At one angle, it is a film about an LAPD officer (Bautista) seeking retribution for the death of his partner (Karen Gillam), which he is willing to pursue at all costs, even if it jeopardizes his relationships and a healthy emotional well-being. From the other angle, it is a rom-com-style friend zone narrative, where a big-hearted schlub (Nanjiani) picks up a weekend gig as an Uber driver to help fund his “platonic business partner who [he] loves'” cycling gym, all in the hopes that she will quit dating people he sees as assholes to be with him instead.
When the LAPD officer gets Lasik surgery the same day he gets the tip that will lead to his pivotal, avenging arrest, he must Uber to track down the heroin-dealing perp (Iko Uwais), thus landing him in Stu’s leased electric car of an Uber decked out in bottles of water, Canadian candy, and a license plate that reads: “FIVESTARS.”
Dissect the two generic narratives, and you get two watered-down, hokey pretenders. The crime narrative is as boilerplate as possible, as this is a comedy first and foremost. But the love quandary is equally half-baked and also weirdly dated.
For a movie that sets out to insist to its audience that it is 2019 progressive, with its jokes about mansplaining and covering up a Hilary-as-President tattoo and the protagonist shouting in desperation that “women will rule the world,” the fact that the second female lead in the film is stuck (fridged, perhaps) in her apartment sobbing over a guy while simultaneously hoping a new guy will come to her aid and give her love is odd. This serves as our protagonist Stu’s driving motivation, and it ends up taking pathos away from the romantic subplot as well as criminally underserving Betty Gilpin as a performer.
Comedy-wise, the film has its moments. Nanjiani is given a couple softball punchlines that he nails out of the park, and Bautista’s hard edge persona gets a surprising amount of mileage. (Not to mention the brief appearance of American Vandal‘s Jimmy Tatro, who, alongside Nanjiani, delivers the funniest scene of the film).
But, all in all, the superficial genre infusion leads to a shallow plot with shallow emotional payoffs, and the few-and-far-between moments of memorable humor do not keep this narrative afloat. Add to this an exceedingly annoying, jittery camera during action sequences and the incessant rideshare humor, and Stuber comes off less-than.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)