Didn’t see that one coming.
Trailers always elicit an immediate reaction from the viewer in the form of whether or not the viewer will go see the movie. For a trailer for a movie like Stuber, most people will probably think “well, not gonna go see that piece of shit.” I say that because I am one of those people. Except, being a critic, my thought came out as “well, when am I going to have to sit through that piece of shit?” The point is, the trailer for Stuber leaves you wanting to watch pretty much any other movie. The premise alone screams STAY AWAY!!!! A cop kidnaps an Uber driver and forces him to chauffeur him around the city fighting crime. That sounds much more like a rejected Saturday Night Live skit trying to appeal to Millennials than a summer blockbuster movie.
To be blunt, that premise (and movie title) sucks. The only real interest I had going into the film was to see if Dave Bautista could carry a film. What is surprising is that the movie works. Yeah – I am as shocked as you because, again, we both watched the trailer. It works because the film is aware of how stupid its own premise is and is constantly poking fun at it. And it works because Dave Bautista seemed right at home in what is really just a buddy cop flick.
(Mild SPOILERS ahead. You’ll see what I mean.)
Officer Vic Manning (Bautista) has been chasing drug kingpin Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais) for three years, after Tedjo killed Manning’s partner (Karen Gillan, who is tragically underused in this film). His obsession has led to the collapse of his marriage and neglect of his daughter. Never mind that his daughter is a full-grown adult, we need tired, cliched tropes to build Manning’s character. Anyway, Manning’s chief (Mira Sorvino) informs him that the FBI is taking over the Tedjo case and that he should take a little time off to deal with his personal life. This includes getting Lasik surgery, which will better help him see his daughter’s (Natalie Morales) art work at her art show that same evening. After getting the surgery, he gets a call from a source about Tedjo handling a big drug deal that night and Vic immediately jumps into action to meet his source for details. And by jump, I mean crashes his car because he just had eye surgery. This is where the movie gets creative with its premise.
This being an action-comedy featuring gigantic, former wrestler/MMA fighter Dave Bautista, we need to believe that he won’t just crush every bad guy in his gigantic, former wrestler/MMA fighter hands (seriously, his hands are bigger than my head!). Kudos to the writer (Tripper Clancy) for saying “what if we partially blind him?” Not only does that solve the “but he’s huge!” dilemma, it also provides a clever reason for him to need to be driven around. That brings us to the next question – why not just give him a new partner to legally drive him around rather than commit a felony (among many) by kidnapping an Uber driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani)? Well, because it’s 2019 grandpa, try to keep up.
While the action is decently entertaining (and surprisingly bloody, earning an R rating), the comedy is the star of the film. That is where Nanjiani comes in. With his deadpan deliver and accompanying physical expressions, I found myself laughing quite often. I was not expecting that because, yep, trailer. Even better is that Nanjiani and Bautista feed off each other to deliver more laughs. That’s not to say every joke in the film works. There are several ongoing side plots that fail to deliver any comedy – Stu trying to get five star ratings from customers, Stu trying to get home to have sex with a girl (Betty Gilpin) he is in love with but who only views him as a friend, and Stu’s boss being a massive douche nozzle. Now that I really think about it, the premise is really the only solid joke in the film.
(Side note: the funniest line of the movie isn’t in the movie, but only in the trailer. Vic hands Stu a tiny gun and says “it’s a baby gun. It allows you to fire it while crying.”)
The point is that Stuber is a throwback to fun buddy-cop movies that are desperately missing from film right now. Bautista delivers a solid lead performance, giving us good action scenes, and Nanjiani nails the plucky, comedic sidekick. Together, they deliver a film that doesn’t take itself seriously and characters that are fairly relatable and sympathetic. I will not go so far as to say Stuber is a good movie (the side plots, failed jokes, and predictable ending prevent that), but it is an entertaining movie despite what the trailer is trying to tell you.
Rating: Ask for three dollars back, one for each bad side plot.