‘Stuber’ is an Entertaining, Forgettable Romp
‘Stuber’ may not be the most rewarding of movies, but it’s a testament to the attractiveness of comfort food in film.
If there’s one genre that seems to have never changed over the years, it’s the action comedy. Bring together two charismatic leads whose characters dislike each other, throw them into a night of hijinx, and unleash a barrage of visual gags and lowest common denominator jokes that will do the bare minimum for entertainment; the best you can expect is that the two leads have great chemistry and the action is good. Fortunately, Stuber clears that bar and stands as a testament to the attractiveness of comfort food. It may not be the most rewarding of movies, but there’s little downtime spent being bored watching it.
As the title suggests, Stuber owes many of its jokes to a universal understanding of Uber and other rideshare services. When police officer Vic (Dave Bautista) gets hot on the trail of a killer he has been hunting for years (played by the severely underused Iko Uwais, in a role that once again under-utilizes his talents), he goes from hideout to hideout tracking him down. The catch? He can’t see, thanks to lasik eye surgery done that very morning. In comes Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), who spends his spare time as Uber driver and is on the verge of losing even that job. His newest passenger is his last chance at getting a five-star review, but it just so happens to be a Vic in pursuit.
What becomes increasingly apparent throughout Stuber is how many hoops the movie goes through in order to keep the film entertaining. Generic subplots of a possible mole-tipping of Tedjo, a father too focused on his job, and a guy who just can’t get the girl he’s always wanted feel like tired tropes of a genre that is beyond worn out. It’s not enough that Nanjiani and Bautista have plenty of chemistry together, each exchanging joke after joke as bullets fly by their heads. Stuber flops and flounders to find a way to justify its runtime, which is rather unfortunate when in almost every other department it feels confidently executed.
Jokes often land even when they fluctuate between being absurdly ageist (old guy doesn’t understand technology) or weirdly specific film references. Bautista and Nanjiani carry every bad jokes to a point where it’s easy to at least smirk, even if the joke itself isn’t very funny. Whether it’s their banter with one another or the chemistry, Stuber makes the most of its cast, who do a lot of the heavy lifting. Smaller roles like Iko Uwais and Natalie Morales’ characters fit a very specific mold, but the actors are always game. Uwais doesn’t get a lot to do, but when its time for action moments he shows his talents with ease.
In an action-comedy, it’s almost never the comedy that is the problem. More often than not, all the action suffers because it is tailored only to the punchline of a joke. Stuber doesn’t buck that trend, but it does offer some fairly decent action sequences. Whenever Uwais is involved, it’s still fun to watch him work. His fighting style alongside Joseph Trapanese’s score is always a blessed combo (Trapanese scored both Raid movies, which brought Uwais to the spotlight), and the few moments they’re put together are a lot of fun. But scenes where the two leads work together are often the more interesting and funny of the bunch. Largely any complaints held against the action is that it’s shot with a shaky cam, which lessens the visceral impact and the choreography of the scenes. It’s not Mile 22 bad with all of its quick cuts and butchering of action scenes, but it can often be disheartening when it’s clear that director Michael Dowse wanted a good fight scene.
Saved by its cast, Stuber is the kind of movie that every summer needs. Released next to a bigger action film it might get lost in the shuffle, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a complete loss. Yet, it’s still an entertaining movie. It never breaks the mold and never takes any substantial risks, but that’s what makes it the perfect film to just sit back and enjoy in an air conditioned theater on a hot summer day. Outside of that very specific context, Stuber will likely be immediately forgotten by almost everyone who sees it.