In Stuber, a rogue detective (Dave Bautista) hot on the case of the heroine dealer who killed his partner has just undergone Lasik eye surgery. Functionally blind, Bautista’s Vic not-so-serendipitously gets an urgent break in the case but can barely walk two paces without running into a wall or down a flight of stairs. Wanting to avenge his fallen partner before the case is handed off to the feds, Vic finds salvation in ride share technology, hailing Uber driver Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) to unwittingly save the day as a kind of seeing-eye-Prius-driver.
So begins the Mr. Magoo/Ride Along mash-up from director Michael Dowse that somehow is so much more watchable than both the premise and title imply. Defying the odds of a movie called Stuber, a portmanteau of Uber-driving protagonist Stu, the concept comedy rides and dies by its commitment to its odd-duck premise and two perfectly cast but ill-suited “partners” in Bautista and Nanjiani.
The buddy action-comedy has been out of vogue for some time, the most recent example probably being Shane Black’s awesomely entertaining The Nice Guys, but Stuber shows a fine example of how to make an accessible, dumb, R-rated night out with the boys kind of movie that checks all the boxes while even squeezing in a meditation on competing brands of modern masculinity. There’s little necessarily revalatory about the iron-willed strong man vs. the big-hearted feeler-type but while a throwback nod to buddy actioners past, Stuber also paves its way in 2019 by staying fresh and topical, presenting a well-rounded deconstruction on toxic masculinity as well as toxic timidity.
Vic’s nose-to-the-grindstone approach to life has left him world-weary and unable to connect with those closest to him, including artist daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales). On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Stu is an overly emasculated weakling too scared to ever stand up for himself. In his deconstruction of the vanities of failed masculinity, screenwriter Tripper Clancy doesn’t let either character off the hook, the friend-zoned and meathead alike, and takes righteous shots at the shared faults of the Vics and Stus of the world.
Boiling over with out-of-touch machismo, Bautista has honed a specific shtick and he applies it perfectly here. Much like the Rock’s sexless, hairless charismatic marble-made man-in-charge persona, Bautista has perfected the dense brute lacking emotional intelligence. Vic is basically Drax with a hairpiece and ethnically-ambiguous complexion and your ha-ha mileage with the character should parallel your reaction to his MCU alien comic relief. The also very funny Kumail proves the pitch perfect foil to all his huff-and-puff-and-blow-your-house-down shenanigans.
A “modern man” overly in touch with his feelings and well-versed in woke culture but incapable of “manning” up in a traditional sense, Stu is well-meaning weakness embodied. He’s a doormat of a dude, complete with a little laminated sheet offering up the services he provides, drooling for that full 5-star rating. Too afraid to stand up and say what we actually wants, he’s left begging for table scraps, a never-sexy position to be in regardless of your station in life, much less so when you drive an Uber. From getting pushed around at the sporting goods place where he works day shifts, to wing-womaning his best friend and long time crush Becca (Ketty Gilpin) waiting for her to hit a relationship snag and throw him a friendzone bone, Stu reeks of desperation. A lost cause in his personal life, career aspirations and romantic desires alike. You can’t earn 5 stars from the world until you see yourself as a 5-stars man, man.
As Stu forcibly accompanies Vic across the greater LA area, questioning and killing his way to a fairly predictable endgame, the odd couple come to take a little yin from each other’s yang, becoming increasingly more capable “men” and developing a tried-but-true Turner-and-Hooch relationship that still feels fresh, modern and lived in.
Overflowing in physical comedy, Stuber is ultra-violent slapstick that also manages a good amount of self-reflection and heart. The inspired juxtaposition of Bautista and Nanjiani simply cannot be overstated, their lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry making for the very best version of what this movie could be. The addition of martial arts maestro Ido Uwais in the villain spot makes the “action” part of the action-comedy pop, using physical comedy in much the same way that Jackie Chan would at the height of his career. And at a brisk 90-minutes, Stuber doesn’t wear out its welcome, discovering a chipper pace broken up by various shoot-outs, gags, character revelations, and heart-to-hearts with male strippers. As far as dumb action-comedies go, Stuber’s go-for-broke antics drove it to 4-star success in this critic’s eyes.
CONCLUSION: The made-in-heaven comedic pairing of Dave Bausista and Kumail Nanjiani is enough to make Stuber an often extremely funny and action-packed buddy comedy bro-down that also manages to make some statements about modern masculinity. Do it for the lolz.
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