Only because “Stulyft” doesn’t roll off the tongue. LAPD Officer Vic (Dave Bautista) is one of the good cops in a sea of bad blue. He’s grizzled, gutsy, and simply knows how to get the job done. His successful law enforcement career has come at the expense of a sound personal life; he and budding artist daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) share a pretty nonexistent relationship. All he’s got on his mind is taking down one of LA’s more brutal criminals, the cop-killing drug dealer Teijo (Iko Uwais).
Along with his partner, Sarah (Karen Gillan), they come close to doing so but suffer a setback and the trail goes cold until one tip reignites it. Temporarily incapacitated and unable to drive, Vic is able to use thing called Uber, and Vic’s chauffeur is Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a part-time ride share driver mockingly referred to as Stuber by his retail manager who works a miserable job in an effort to jump start an entrepreneurial endeavor with a woman he really likes in Becca (Betty Gilpin). Believing this to be a routine A-to-B drop off, Stu’s in for the proverbial ride of his life, despite being the driver.
Every summer should have a Nice Guys-esque movie or two. Or at least something in that vein. Something that’s snappy, maybe R-rated, little bit of a throwback, surprisingly good on the action, and ultimately escapist. Stuber has got some of those qualities, but is missing a few of those elusive stars.
From the aforementioned The Nice Guys to 21 Jump Street, and Rush Hour to Beverly Hills Cop, any really good buddy cop movie is reliant to an extent on the chemistry possessed between its two leads. Nanjiani and Bautista have proven their comedic chops in features before, and as a duo, they’re good together. The bond isn’t electric, though it is far from the weakest point of Stuber. Both play off each other’s natural physical stereotypes, and of course, part of their respective journeys consists of being braver (Stu), and caring (Vic). Not a new idea (was recently seen in the rebooted Shaft), yet it works enough.
For any WWE fans, Bautista here is tapped into his heel persona, which happened to be his most memorable character variation during his duration with the company. As for Nanjiani, it’s not hyperbole to consider him one of the genre’s best comedic talents today starting with The Big Sick; he’s got the ability to be over-the-top while still giving a surprising amount of depth and heart. Plot-wise, once you’ve seen one of these movies, you’ve seen them all. Anyone who’s floored at particular twists simply hasn’t seen enough of these flicks. To Stuber’s credit, it doesn’t try to be genre-breaking, clocking in at a relatively tidy 93 minutes.
Comedy is important in a buddy cop film. However, the best films of the genre don’t overlook delivering satisfying action. This aspect is where Stuber director Michael Dowse, predominately known for solid indie works, misses the mark rather wide. The opening scene taking place in a high-rise hotel that transitions into an on-foot chase sequence is extremely erratic and disorienting and sets the tone for the rest of the action in the film. When the action happens to be steady, it’s surprisingly bloody in spurts, but generally unexciting. The biggest disappointment in all of this is Uwais. Not for anything he does, but this is the 2nd straight American film that has wasted the Indonesian action star—who can do almost anything without camera tricks—on poor direction and/or vanilla physical scenes. Here’s to hoping that the next American actioner takes advantage of his skillset. Chad Stahelski, anyone?
A lesser combination of Collateral, The Nice Guys, and Rush Hour, Stuber parks somewhere in the middle of what it is honoring. Akin to deciding whether to accept that surge pricing or wait for the cost to come down, giving a view to Stuber would be better after its theatrical run.
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