'Stuber' Review: Was Clyft Already Taken?
Let's just get this out of the way.
Stuber is funny.
And that's why I feel bad writing what I am about to write.
The concept is pretty simple. A loose cannon cop played by Dave Bautista orders a ride from pushover Uber driver, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), forcing the driver to act as chauffeur while he pursues a drug dealer who killed his partner.
Oh, and why doesn't the cop drive himself?
Well, he just got Lasik eye surgery (must've got a coupon in the mail).
Best not to ask questions going further.
What proceeds is a 90-minute buddy comedy in the vein of Horrible Bosses (2011), The Hangover (2009), and The Heat (2013), but with less of the charm or cohesion.
Kumail Nanjiani is a fantastic actor whose presence in the film carries it through much of its run time. But like the electricity in the eco-friendly car he reminds us ever so often was "just leased," Nanjiani's character can only keep the whole thing running for so long. Unfortunately, this movie seems to be a vehicle (pun absolutely intended) for the actor's wittiness and steadily increasing star power, instead of being a fully realized story in its own right.
The writers obviously approached the film from the concept of the "kidnapped" Uber driver first, and then built a shaky narrative out from that. Forcing Stu to continue the trip, rather than cancel it, because of the threat of a low rating is a creative and compelling explanation for why events happen as they occur in this film. But that is where the creativity ends.
From Bautista's character needing the ride because of an eye surgery, to the bad guys using the threat of violence against the cop's adult daughter (Natalie Morales of Parks and Recreation) as a bargaining chip, nothing seems fresh or natural in this film. Each major plot point is somewhat random, and at the same time completely predictable.
It's as if the film was plotted so lazily that the writers went with the first seemingly logical course of events that got us from pick up point to destination, ultimately leaving the viewer with a jumbled series of events that essentially make sense, but feel boring and common. Its creation is akin to throwing a bucket of paint at a wall, and it miraculously forming a cohesive image, only to see, upon closer inspection, that it is a dorm room poster of "The Top Ten James Bond Quotes." Makes you wonder if the only reason the studio called it Stuber was because Clyft was already taken.
This isn't to say that the whole thing is terrible. It's funny. Nanjiani is a fun and energetic presence, and Bautista is an effective foil. Most of the jokes are smart and modern, with the question of what makes someone "a man" thoughtfully driving them. In an era where well warranted sensitivities about politics and society dictate the direction of the film industry, and particularly the tone of comedies, Stuber continues this trajectory by celebrating the less conventionally masculine Stu, and showing its audience that you don't need to be a tough-as-nails loose cannon cop to save the day.
However, it isn't challenging. Stuber is the kind of movie you watch to pass the last few hours you're awake after a night at the bar. If you can get over the tired plot structure, riddled with holes and loose ends, and just enjoy the presence of the two central characters, you may not be disappointed.
While I appreciate the effort of director Michael Dowse, who directed the hilarious and underappreciated Goon (2011), I think this movie fails to meet the bar set this summer by adventurous buddy comedy Booksmart (Wilde, 2019), which debuted with rave reviews in late May.
I don't hand out stars, but if this movie were my Uber driver, I'd give it five stars so it wouldn't lose its job, but I'd probably "forget" to leave a tip.