The comedic rapport between Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani gives a huge boost to Stuber, an otherwise formulaic buddy picture with a heavy dose of action violence from director Michael Dowse (Goon) opening in Prague cinemas this week
In Stuber, Bautista plays hardened Los Angeles detective Vic, who sets his sights on underworld criminal kingpin Teijo (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) after he loses partner Morris (Karen Gillan, Bautista’s Guardians of the Galaxy co-star) in a protracted opening sequence.
Only problem: Vic has laser eye surgery on the day he gets a hot lead about Teijo’s upcoming drug deal, which also happens to be on the same night as his an art exhibit featuring the work of daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales). For the rest of the movie, Bautista does his best Mr. Magoo impression, bumping into objects completely unaware of his surroundings.
That also means Vic won’t be able to drive himself to the film’s key events, underscored by a scene in which he drives himself right into a ditch. Enter humble sporting goods clerk Stu (Nanjiani), who makes money driving Uber on the side (‘Stuber,’ geddit?), and finds himself chauffeuring a hulking L.A. cop from crime scene to crime scene.
The result is something along the lines of the Ice Cube-Kevin Hart Ride Along movies, or a comedic spin on Michael Mann’s Collateral, which featured Jamie Foxx as a taxi driver unwittingly forced into becoming an accomplice for Tom Cruise’s hitman.
Nanjiani’s Stu, too, finds himself an accomplice to murder. Stuber is unbelievable from the word go – no real-world cop could behave like this, quest for vengeance or not – but as Stuber’s body body count rises, in grisly, no-holds-barred fashion, we start to lose sympathy for Bautista’s one-man wrecking crew.
But Stuber has one thing really going for it: the chemistry between its two leads. That means everything in these types of movies, and Stuber is carried as far as Bautista and Nanjiani can take it: the best scenes in the movie are sequences of dialogue between Vic and Stu, light moments during which Bautista serves as the perfect straight man for Nanjiani’s comic timing.
Beloved as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, former WWE star Bautista has been generally relegated to supporting roles in B-movies (Escape Plan 2) in his other film work; Nanjiani, too, has been slow to launch a Hollywood career despite the breakthrough success of The Big Sick two years back. But Stuber proves they have the real-deal talent to carry a major action-comedy vehicle, and here’s hoping for brighter big screen things for both of them.
Iko Uwais, Indonesian star of The Raid and other hyperkinetic action movies, gets to strut his stunt skills during initial scenes that have him descend a half-dozen floors by jumping ledge to ledge, but is then forgotten until some climactic fisticuffs. And Mira Sorvino shows up in a thankless role as Vic’s superior officer, but makes enough of an impression to wonder where she’s been recently.
Stuber isn’t a total success – a side plot involving Stu’s friend/crush Becca (Betty Gilpin) is a particular low point – and it works a lot better as a comedy than an action movie, despite the extended scenes of carnage. But it’s also one of the funniest films I’ve seen in cinemas so far this year.