Stuber (2019)

Saving the day takes a pair

Macho Los Angeles Police Department detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) schedules eye surgery at the same time that notorious, quick-footed drug lord Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais) reappears on his radar, their previous run-in resulting in the murder of his partner, Sarah Morris (Karen Gillan), which took place six months earlier during a brutal street chase. While tortured by the idea that Oka is still on the loose, Vic’s neglected daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) books him an Uber ride to ensure that he attends her art exhibition opening later that night.

The unfortunate receiver of this Uber call is Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a well-meaning, simple guy with problems of his own. For starters, his department store boss Richie Sandusky (Jimmy Tatro) is an absolute jerk, dubbing him ‘Stuber’ for his after-hours taxi gig; he’s also helplessly friend-zoned by his soon-to-be business partner Becca (Betty Gilpin), and despite Stu’s efforts, his Uber rating is dropping with every ride.

Even with Vic’s superior, LAPD Captain Angie McHenry (Mira Sorvino), pushing him away from his long-standing case, a hot tip from his informant, Leon (Amin Joseph), about the whereabouts of Oka, who’s making a heroin drop on the very same night as his daughter’s arty shindig, gets the vision-impaired Vic back on the hunt, pulling the meek Stu into driving him around for a wild night of bullet-riddled chaos.

Two guys, one pup.

Once upon a time, in the ’80s to late ’90s, adult-aimed buddy-cop action-comedies were a staple, producing titles like 48 Hours (1982), Lethal Weapon (1987) and Bad Boys (1995). Since then, the genre, while never truly dead, hasn’t quite flourished like it did during its heyday, with the best contributions in recent years being 21 Jump Street (2012) and its sequel, along with The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017). It’s the latter that I believe gave the confidence boost to produce Stuber, sharing with that film a hilariously unexpected penchant for bloody violence and an attempt to soften some of its harder-edged aspects with moments of heart-to-heart. Director Michael Dowse, Goon (2011), doesn’t quite hit a home run here, but within the modest confines laid out by screenwriter Tripper Clancy, Hot Dog (2018), at least knows to keep the pace up.

Mostly playing like a low-key spoof of Michael Mann’s outstanding thriller Collateral (2004) meeting the dark and wild comedy sensibilities of Game Night (2018), Stuber is really just an opportunity to laugh at two opposing personalities in increasingly violent confrontations. Stars Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick (2017), are game to play off their natural personas and it generally works pretty well — the hyper-masculine Vic versus the more progressive Stu. The funniest scenes between the pair tend to be where they’re both let loose at each other, the height of which is a relentlessly prolonged battle with an assortment of hunting weapons at Stu’s work after hours. I feel there was even more slapstick potential between the duo that could’ve been exploited throughout the film as some of the softer, scripted stuff tends to fall flat.

‘… this wasn’t in the employee handbook.’

On the sidelines, *spoiler warning* poor Mira Sorvino, Mimic (1997), is virtually a cameo in such a woefully underdeveloped character, LAPD bureaucrat Angie McHenry. I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it if it weren’t for the fact that she is revealed to be the head villain of the piece, and unnecessarily so at that — there was already enough motivation for Vic in the way of revenge against Oka without another baddie having to pop up. In attempting to keep audiences in the dark (well sort of, but not really), Angie appears randomly here and there just to remind us that she’s still around before her true intentions come to light. I honestly didn’t understand what the Captain’s beef was and why she had set things up, even with her obligatory expository scene, which sounded like lousy improvisation more than anything. I’m not sure who’s more at fault for this one — the director or the screenwriter — but either way, it’s a huge and unfortunate oversight. After all, heroes can’t be particularly great without an intimidating villain and tangible odds against them.

The action scenes, when they do come into play, aren’t too bad, though they’re slightly hindered by that overly shaky cam technique, most notably in the opening on-foot pursuit. Needless to say, it’s a shame, especially when you have such amazing choreography on display by The Raid’s superstar Iko Uwais who, like Sorvino, is also kinda sidelined. I get that English isn’t his first language, but filmmakers could’ve certainly made more use of his intimidating martial arts abilities.

Uber serious

There is, however, a genuine attempt to mix in levity with the bullets and blood, some more successful than others, the best gag being the goriest with an explosive can to the face during a brief but welcome car chase. Other attempts tend to just raise question marks, like the short-range shoot-out in a veterinary clinic fused with random cuts to an outside shot of a VET walking some dogs, listening to the calming ‘Can’t You See’ performed by The Marshall Tucker Band, that becomes the backdrop of the fiery confrontation — a peculiar choice indeed.

With the rise and rise of ‘one size fits all’ type PG-13 action entertainment, I’m delighted that purely adult-aimed movies like this haven’t completely gone for good, even if it’s only occasional these days. Stuber is a classic case of ‘what you see is what you get,’ a no fuss, decently paced action-comedy, ideal for a Saturday night with mates, pizza and a six-pack of beer. I totally understand if most meet the movie with a shrug, but if the trailer had you smirking, then you’ll do just fine in this rideshare.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Stuber is released through 20th Century Fox Australia