No one likes to see a film underachieve to the point of forgetfulness. Hating one is easy, almost cathartic, it pumps blood through our veins, gives a drive, a reason to be. It’s healthy. But to see it underachieve is disappointing, as if everyone involved had taken all the right steps but, in the end, just missed a bit of magic to make it work. Stuber is that film.
Stuber starts off with a premise that I bet killed it in the elevator pitch, which is probably how it got discovered. A temporarily blind cop has to use the services of an insecure Uber driver to follow the trail of the criminal who killed his partner. Figure out for yourself who has to connect with his emotional self, and who has to man-up and stand up for what he wants.
In the very bad, extremely awful, day of the cop in question, Vic (Dave Bautista), undergoes eye surgery in what happens to be the opening day of his daughter’s (Natalie Morales) art exhibition and the day he receives word that an important drug deal involving his long term target (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) is about to go down. Added to this, he definitely needs to do this today or risk the case going to the feds, or so his superior Captain McHenry (Mira Sorvino) says.
Luckily he bumps into Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), who moonlights as an Uber driver in order to save enough money to help his best friend and crush Becca (Betty Gilpin) open a spinning gym for single-women called… Spinster. It just so happens that Becca is drunk, heartbroken, and ready to go down with Stu in a glorious night of regret, so he needs to finish his errands in time to catch her before she reconsiders.
You see how this paragraph started interesting before I decided to add a little bit more detail to flesh out the situation, and then it was just a series of contrived dilemmas that are not as interesting or enticing as the first 25-word logline? That’s exactly the problem of Stuber, it constantly underachieves the deeper it tries to go in the plot.
As a comedy it’s fine in measures. Nothing in it bores or offends, both Bautista and Nanjiani are proven comedians with a terrific sense of timing and character. But the script, by Tripper Clancy, doesn’t keep up with their talent. As an action film it has interesting ideas and even better intentions, but director Michael Dowse never really elevates or pushes the boundaries of the genre in the way, for example, what David Gordon Green had done in the vastly better Pineapple Express. There’s a good shootout scene in a back-alley veterinary, that worked better in concept that in execution, but it also commits the crime of using the crazy talented Uwais and not know how to direct a simple fighting sequence. The film starts with one that is so confusingly setup I was crying for a wider shot to appreciate Uwais’ movements.
The plot progresses episodically as beat sheet demands. Not many of the characters are developed apart from the single trait they are given at the start. And if we were to stop a think for a second, it’s evident that both men could have resolved their problems with a simple phone call. Stuber could’ve gotten away with it if the rest of the action had been stupid enough to be entertaining, or dynamic enough to be exciting. But it isn’t, so it won’t take long until one thinks that we are always one smart decision away from the end credits.
I think I’m hard on Stuber because I wanted to like it. Sure the title is daft, but it’s the kind of daft that I imagine a Bautista / Nanjiani vehicle to charm me enough to get an endorsement. And in the between stoner comedies and the new genre of “adults in arrested development”, it looked like the kind of light-hearted daftness studio comedies needed to reinvent themselves. Stuber isn’t that film, not because of lack of trying, but because it just isn’t good enough.
Nanjiani and Bautista’s chemistry is so good they deserve another shot at a film together.
Such a fun premise executed so haphazardly. If I sound too harsh on this film is because it had all the right elements to be good, not this kind of bland mediocrity.