"Stuber": How to Make an O.K. Movie
HBO has done a fantastic job over the last callender year of replacing the Game of Thrones hole in it's schedule with some of it's best original content in years. Watchmen was somehow even better than expected, His Dark Materials seemed like the next step for the fantasy genre on the network and McMillion$ gave true crime fans something a bit more jolly than the the norm.
On the other hand, the theatrical releases on the network have been somewhat disappointing with classics like The Predator (2018), X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. Since the start of 2020, it has felt like every Saturday release has been something that I had either already seen with no interest in seeing again or movies that I would not waste my time on, but finally this past week they released a movie that I had even somewhat of a passing interest in, one of 2019's most unpopular movies...Stuber.
Now it's not like I was clamoring to see Stuber, there is a reason I skipped seeing it when it came out in theaters. It seemed like a perfect "wait for HBO" movie and the reviews were pretty lackluster with almost exclusively poor word of mouth. That being said I am a longtime Kumail Nanjiani fan (What I would give for the Indoor Kids to come back, I would even settle for The X-Files Files) as well as a growing Dave Bautista fan and figured the movie would be a good way to spend a quarantined Saturday night.
I am here to tell you that Stuber is not a great movie, but it is also not a bad movie either. Movie reviews and more generally reviews in general look for superlatives and hot takes to drive up traffic but Stuber would provide neither. The closest I could come after the credits had rolled was the fact that I could not think of the last time I saw a movie more basic, uninspired, enjoyable and nonthreatening movie, there is your hot take.
The term "shut your brain off" movie is one of the most overused and misunderstood quotes one can come up with to describe what usually ends up meaning a movie that could not care less about anything except its massive star power and visual effects. Stuber on the other hand truthfully allows you to turn your brain off and just enjoy it. The plot is incredibly straight forward with no creative or critical thinking involved. This does not mean that it's plot is allowed to be a complete mess, it exists and makes sense, it just does not challenge the viewer at all.
The characters are almost comically standard fare of comedy action movie tropes. Big tough cop who is a little too dedicated to the job is forced to team up with a weak and unassuming partner who could stand to add a bit of risk to their lives. Along the way they will teach each other how to correct some of these faults while learning how to best utilize the strengths they may not have realized were there all along.
The best phrase I can use to describe Stuber is "by the book." There is not much going on metaphorically or on the cinematic front beyond what is being presented, but there are also very few glaring issues either. The plot holes are present but minimal and unobtrusive. The writing is uninspired but not offensively bad. The characters are primitive but not unlikable.
There are a few relatively bland set pieces and the plot seems to just push forward with no real originality but the whole thing just sort of works. To me this was largely due to the lead roles being not only well cast but well acted and overall enjoyable to watch.
There is not much more to the characters past what is going on in the movie, what you see is what you get. It's not like you can read Bautista's performance and tell that maybe he is conflicted about his sexuality or that Nanjiani's character possibly does not have the best relationship with his parents told through context clues but what we are given is good enough to be entertained.
There are a few moments between plot points where the characters get to expand a bit beyond the flow of the movie and these moments are what save Stuber from being a boring movie. These moments are where Bautista and Kumail do their best work and it never feels like either is just showing up for a paycheck. They both get to be silly and funny in their own ways and for the most part, not even just from the lead characters, the jokes presented are funny.
Now it's not like we will be quoting Stuber for years to come or that this will become some cult gem that will slowly grow a dedicated audience over time but when there was an attempt to get me to laugh, I generally did. There is something inherently funny about Dave Bautista, half blind, threatening to shoot a drug dealer's fish tank which he mistakes for a big screen TV. There is something enjoyable about Kumail Nanjiani pretending to be an undercover cop to intimidate the same drug dealer, while they sit in what is clearly his Prius/Uber.
I don't assume I will get many people contacting me to talk about how much they loved Stuber, but I also assume that there won't be many who will say they hated it. Again I enjoy both of the lead actors, most surprisingly Dave Bautista who if you asked me 8 years ago how his acting career would progress I would have never expected him to be a genuinely funny lead but I think that for the most part people would get almost as much of a kick out of this combo as I did.
So for what it is, an incredibly basic and straightforward action comedy that did not feature some massive star power or legendary writer or directer involved, I enjoyed the hell out of Stuber. As much as it would allow me to.