Stuber is an uneven buddy comedy that can't seem to decide if it's from the 80s or modern day, but occasionally gets in some decent jokes.
One of many films acquired by Disney in its deal with Fox, Stuber is the latest in a long line of buddy comedies to be released by Hollywood - though it's the first first R-rated movie released by Disney since 2013. In Stuber, director Michael Dowse (What If, Goon) and screenwriter Tripper Clancy (Hot Dog, Four Against the Bank) pair Dave Bautista's grizzled LAPD detective with Kumail Nanjiani's overly accommodating Uber driver. The duo are sturdy enough, leaning into the odd-couple aspect of the characters, though overall Stuber tends more toward cheap humor than anything else. Stuber is an uneven buddy comedy that can't seem to decide if it's from the 80s or modern day, but occasionally gets in some decent jokes.
Stuber follows detective Vic Manning (Bautista), who's relentlessly chasing drug kingpin Oka Teijo (Iwo Uwais), the man responsible for killing his former partner. However, with a major drop going down on the same day Vic had LASIK surgery, he's unable to drive himself - so he calls an Uber. By day, Stu (Nanjiani) works at a sporting goods store where he's constantly made fun of by his boss Richie (Jimmy Tatro), and at night Stu drives an Uber - prompting Richie to give him the nickname Stuber. But when Stu accepts Vic's request for a ride - desperate to get a five-star rating so he can earn enough money to open a spin gym with the woman he's in love with, Becca (Betty Gilpin) - Stu is reluctantly dragged into Vic's hunt for Teijo. The ride takes the duo all over L.A., including to the art show of Vic's daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), but it's unclear if they'll survive the night, let alone catch Teijo.
The Stuber script, particularly in its characterization of Vic, can't seem to make up its mind if it wants to play directly into the classic 80s buddy comedy tropes or deconstruct the masculinity of its heroes. In the case of Vic, he's portrayed both as the stereotypical action badass, gunning down bad guys despite his impaired vision, but is criticized by Stu for not being able to express his feelings. Stu is similarly shoehorned into the friend-zoned antithesis of Vic's action hero, screaming, crying and puking during a gunfight, but gaining some courage. Stuber has the seeds of an action comedy that wants to use modern sensibilities to analyze tropes of decades past, but more often perpetuates stereotypes than deconstructs them. The result is an uneven mess of a movie that feels like it has something to say about action movies, buddy comedies and heroes, if only it weren't distracted by its action and comedy all the time.
Still, it's clear that Bautista and Nanjiani had some fun while filming Stuber, and when their comedic sensibilities line up with the script and direction, the movie can be really funny. There's a variety of humor in the movie, which also helps, ranging from cheap slapstick (thanks to Vic's impaired eyesight) to some more witty comments from Stu. However, not all the jokes will land with every moviegoer, and it feels increasingly throughout the movie that the filmmakers were trying to cover all their bases more than establish a consistent comedic voice. But Bautista and Nanjiani gamely put their all into every single joke, and it's helped that they're bolstered by some incredibly fun smaller characters. (Well, mainly Tatro's Richie and Steve Howey's one scene as male stripper Felix.) As for the rest, all the female stars are relegated to completely one-note characters, as is Uwais as Teijo, though he shows off some impressive fighting skills.
Ultimately, Stuber is a better Uber commercial than buddy comedy movie, mentioning the rideshare app at least every few moments in the film's brisk 90-minute runtime and failing to mention any potential downsides to the rideshare economy that have become apparent in recent years (and are much more often discussed among users than Stuber would have you believe). Even when Stuber touches on the fact that a driver's success is based on five star ratings, the movie positions Stu's 4.1 rating as the fault of him and those he drives, not Uber itself. The blatant Uber publicity wouldn't be as unforgivable if the movie itself were good enough to distract viewers. But while Stuber is sure to get at least one laugh out of every moviegoer, it's only passably entertaining as a buddy comedy.
As such, it may be worth checking out for those already interested in Stuber, particularly the dynamic between Bautista and Nanjiani. It's decently enjoyable and some of the jokes are good. But as movie ticket prices rise and the summer season offers a wide array of big releases, Stuber may be a film that's better left for checking out once it hits home release. It's not necessary viewing, though it's a fine way to spend 90 minutes out of the summer heat. Stuber is wild enough - with crass humor and bloody violence - to keep a viewer's attention, but it's nowhere near a five-star ride.
Stuber is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 93 minutes long and rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity.
- Stuber (2019) release date: Jul 12, 2019