by Rob DiCristino
More nostalgic audience members will find Stuber to be a comforting trip back to a time when high-concept star vehicles were the Hollywood norm. Whereas recent efforts like 21 Jump Street poked fun at the fading genre and The Hitman’s Bodyguard tried to reinvigorate it with a harder edge, Stuber is content to slap a new coat of paint on a familiar buddy comedy shell and call it a day. Despite its stellar cast, it’s a milquetoast throwback that — like its lead character — seems pretty damn happy to just be average. Absent a compelling story, it leans on the chemistry of its stars as they solve their interpersonal conflicts and lay the smackdown on some interchangeable bad guys. It’s copy-and-paste, paint-by-number. That might be exactly what you’re looking for, and that’s great! In an era (era) when many mid-level studio comedies are being banished to Netflix, something as innocuous as Stuber getting a theatrical release almost feels like a victory.
The Raid’s Iko Uwais), Vic has vowed revenge. Months without leads, however, have convinced Vic to finally take time off and get his much-needed laser eye surgery. But, twist! A break in the case reveals itself the very same day! Now, the blinded Vic must negotiate L.A.’s seedy underworld with the help of mild-mannered Uber driver, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani). Get it? Stuber? Anyway, Stu’s world — one already crowded by his hellish day job and preoccupation with Not So Platonic Friend, Becca (Betty Gilpin) — is turned upside-down by Vic’s relentless pursuit of justice. Will the unlikely pair become a team? Will Stu fall for Vic’s daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales)? Will he earn his coveted five stars? Yes! It’s a movie!
Stuber feels like it can’t miss, right? A big, boorish cop with intimacy issues butting heads with a woke Millennial beta male? Vic teaches Stu to fight, while Stu teaches Vic to love! It’s a timeless Buddy Movie formula with a modern spin! And the truth is that it should work. Silicon Valley’s Nanjiani (who co-wrote and starred in the delightful The Big Sick) is a talented improvisor with a legitimate mainstream career in his future. Bautista is already a household name (Drax’s boisterous laugh from Guardians of the Galaxy makes an appearance here) whose natural charisma allows him to shift between tones and styles with ease. He’s a wonderful talent with a well-defined wheelhouse. Why, then, does Stuber end up so dry and disjointed? The fault could be in Tripper Clancy’s screenplay, which feels like it was written by six people who never read each other’s pages. Or it could be in Michael Dowse’s (Goon) clumsy direction, which renders Iko Uwais’ few opportunities to shine completely incoherent.