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Stuber Movie Review

Stuber (2019) movie poster Stuber

Theatrical Release: July 12, 2019 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Michael Dowse / Writer: Tripper Clancy

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani (Stu), Dave Bautista (Vic), Iko Uwais (Oka Tedjo), Natalie Morales (Nicole), Betty Gilpin (Becca), Jimmy Tatro (Richie Sandusky), Mira Sorvino (Captain Angie McHenry), Karen Gillan (Sarah Morris)


A longtime filler of supporting roles in comedy films and shows, Kumail Nanjiani snatched leading man status the Sylvester Stallone way: write a movie and star in it. For Nanjiani, it was The Big Sick, the autobiographical 2017 romantic comedy that earned him and his wife Emily Gordon Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay.
Whether the Pakistani-American comic is able to turn that one acclaimed Judd Apatow-produced indie film into a string of leading roles or not remains to be seen. His next big project arrives today in Stuber, an action-comedy that simultaneously presents a potentially career-changing opportunity for Dave Bautista, a former pro wrestler best known for playing Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers movies.

Bautista plays Vic, a police detective who loses his partner (Karen Gillan) in the prologue chasing a criminal, who disappears in a sea of Los Angeles Clippers fans (a sea full of now-anachronistic Blake Griffin jerseys) at the Staples Center. We catch up with Vic six months later, on the day that his daughter (Natalie Morales) will be opening her first big art gallery and he'll be getting Lasik. The procedure leaves him unable to drive for the day, creating the need for Stu (Nanjiani), a retail clerk who also drives for Uber.

Though his license plate is "FIVESTAR" and his electric car has all the amenities you could want, Stu only has a driver rating in the low 4's, which means he's in danger of getting kicked out of the ride sharing service. But that is less a concern to the film than Vic settling his score with Teijo (Iko Uwais), the crook that killed his partner and got away. With the timid Stu serving as his reluctant chauffeur, the squinty Vic follows a lead and finds himself in danger after learning there might be a mole in the department.

In the action comedy "Stuber", a cop who just had Lasik (Dave Bautista) needs an Uber driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) to get him through a dangerous day.

The makeup of Stuber feels very much like something out of the 1980s and '90s. The buddy action comedy was a staple of cinema then, not just in Lethal Weapon, but films like Stakeout, The Hard Way, Midnight Run, Three Fugitives. It seems like hardly a month went by without a new entry to the genre. The buddy comedy hasn't disappeared. It's just evolved with more recent works like Rush Hour series, Pineapple Express, and The Other Guys.

Whether intentionally or not, Stuber feels like a throwback. The only thing to tie it to the present day is Uber, although that is admittedly a significant chunk of its narrative, even considering the title. In fact, the prominence of Uber might be one of the things that viewers most object to, as something that feels slightly calculated like product placement and also something that is sure to date this should rideshare apps not remain such a force.

There isn't much else to take issue with here. Bautista certainly isn't as entertaining as he is in his hairless blue-gray Marvel Cinematic Universe state, but he's sympathetic enough and has acting chops beyond the muscleman minimum. Of course, Bautista is supposed to sell the action half, which leaves the heavy comedic lifting to Nanjiani, who amuses regularly and with ease. It's a little strange that he's playing an Uber driver just as he did two years earlier in his star-making Big Sick role. But I suspect this was among the better jobs he was offered since then and he does make the most of it, getting jokes to land that lesser actors could not.

Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista play the mismatched pair who make "Stuber" a buddy comedy.

Still, the script by Tripper Clancy, who curiously has two German language films to his name, is pretty hit and miss and it misses as often as it hits. The chemistry between our two leads is agreeable but far from iconic.
No one is going to reunite these two as co-leads unless Stuber surprises to an extraordinary degree and inspires a sequel. (It won't.) A subplot about Stu trying to confess his love to his longtime platonic friend (Betty Gilpin), with whom he's opening a spin class business, is short on laughs and feels forced in to create some weight and bring this up to the already short 93-minute runtime.

Director Michael Dowse (Goon, It's All Gone Pete Tong, What If) doesn't seem terribly interested in making the action scenes stand out, but he still happens upon some locations and stunts that pass muster. At its worst, Stuber is a bit stale and generic. At its best, it's mildly diverting and harmless.

Unfortunately, I don't foresee the movie doing much for Nanjiani's and Bautista's careers. There isn't a strong hook here and neither lead seems to have a huge fanbase that will turn up just to see them. Nanjiani's voiceover role was arguably the best thing about Men in Black International, but that movie died quickly with moviegoers. It's tough to envision this one faring any better, with critics unlikely to be stoked and movies like Spider-Man: Far from Home, The Lion King, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood much more broadly appealing reasons to sit inside a dark, air-conditioned theater this month.

Related Reviews:
Kumail Nanjiani: The Big Sick Men in Black International Fist Fight
Dave Bautista: Guardians of the Galaxy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Heist Blade Runner 2049
Action Comedies: The Nice Guys Central Intelligence The Other Guys Ride Along Knight and Day 30 Minutes or Less
Now in Theaters: Spider-Man: Far from Home Toy Story 4 The Lion King (2019) Midsommar

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Reviewed July 12, 2019.

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