There ain’t nothin’ wrong with a simple buddy-cop comedy. Heck, it’s a timeless cinematic tradition. Those movies are, after all, just an excuse to enjoy the clashing dynamic between your two lead actors. Solid casting, decent banter and a few engaging action beats should be enough to justify the price of a ticket. Stuber doesn’t aspire to be anything greater than that — you won’t find any playful genre subversion a la 21 Jump Street here — and the result is a mild success.
A quick look at the image above says everything you need to know regarding Stuber. Kumail Nanjiani plays Stu, an affable Uber driver (hence the film’s annoying title), who — get this — has one wild day when he picks up Vic (Dave Bautista of Guardians of the Galaxy), a violent, monosyllabic detective solving the Most Important Case of His Career. Wacky hijinks and death-defying antics ensue.
If nothing else, Stuber is proof Nanjiani deserves more leading roles. Sure, The Big Sick already established as much back in 2017; however, that movie also boasted an Oscar-nominated screenplay and a stellar supporting cast. Stuber has noticeably less working in its favor. The film’s slavish devotion to the buddy-cop formula — and refusal to do anything compelling with it — strands Nanjiani’s strongest performance yet in the middle of an action-comedy that never quite escapes its generic constraints.
As an actor, Nanjiani has a benign charm about him. He’s clever without seeming self-satisfied, recalling Paul Rudd during his Judd Apatow heyday. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear if he improvised a considerable chunk of his dialogue, as the banter between him and Bautista flies fast and consistently hits the mark. Upon first meeting Vic, Nanjiani quips, “Let me guess, you want me to drive you to all the Sarah Connors in the city?” That brand of pop culture-immersed riffing isn’t exactly visionary, but Nanjiani’s charisma and relentless delivery help it feel fresh. Bautista brings a predictable gruffness and physicality to a character who only functions as a hardened slab of beef for Nanjiani to shout at in a bewildered fashion. You’ve seen Sylvester Stallone play this guy countless times before and with far more gusto. He’s too dedicated to his job! He doesn’t spend enough time with his daughter! He has a hard time showing his feelings!
Nevertheless, outside of Nanjiani, Stuber is woefully uninspired. The primary villain (martial-arts god Iko Uwais, once again squandered in a Hollywood production) is so dull he’s completely absent for long stretches of the film’s runtime. The storyline involves an evil drug kingpin, a cop seeking revenge over a murdered partner and an unfortunate lack of memorable action. A shootout in a veterinary clinic ends with several doves fluttering amid the wreckage in a laughably unearned nod to director John Woo, the godfather of gun-fu.
To put it delicately, this summer’s big-studio releases have been worse than cancer (See: Men in Black: International, Shaft, Dark Phoenix, etc). Thus, when a movie merely settles for being competent it almost feels … well, I wouldn’t say refreshing, but it didn’t make me suicidal. In fact, a few years from now, when Comedy Central inevitably starts airing Stuber on an endless loop, I might not even change the channel.