Courtesy of Fox
On paper, the buddy-cop-team-up action romps have been mangled, chewed up, and dispense into cinemas without so much as a chuckle (looking at you “Ride Along” franchise). Hollywood used to churn this genre of films out at steady rates to big box office grosses. Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in “48 Hours,” Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in “Lethal Weapon” or how about Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in “Rush Hour” - each film benefited from their performers rat-tat-tat energy. And now we can add “Stuber,” the latest breakneck action comedy, and BIGGEST surprise of the summer to the list featuring A-list casting of the wonderful Kumal Nanjiani and the bigger than life Dave Bautista whose paths cross in the most unexpected ways.
“Stuber” is a wildly irreverent comedy, that throws its two polar opposite personalities into the ringer for a night of shootouts, stakeouts, and hilarious hi-jinks. I suspect the picture should find its audience - despite the climate of big budget tent poles sucking the air out of the box office for smaller films - as “Stuber” is a rare and original studio comedy that delivers the punchlines and leaves you wincing long after the credits roll.
It helps that director Michael Dowse and writer Tripper Clancy have enlisted rising star Kumail Nanjiani (whose everywhere these days) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” breakout Dave Bautista as the pair who are thrust into stopping an underground syndicate of parkour wheeling baddies and a revenge plot that gets the two into all kinds of trouble. Their chemistry is immediate, and provides the perfect dose of comedic brilliance in a summer movie season that desperately needs that kind’ve spark.
Nanjiani is Stu, a-happy-go-lucky Uber driver doing his best to maintain a solid average of 5-star rides. When he’s not spending his days chauffeuring sorority sisters or cleaning up vomit from drunken passengers, he works at a sporting goods store constantly being stereotyped by his lazy manager (“American Vandal’s” Jimmy Tatro) and vying for the attention of his best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin) who are in the process of starting a spin class for women called “Spinster.” I thought it was funny too.
Dowse slick and in your face attitude is apparent in these opening scenes, especially as we get introduced to Vic and his ill-fated partner as they’re trying to catch the mastermind of a heroin-peddling ring in the penthouse of a lavish downtown hotel. Obviously, his partner Morris (Karen Gillain), won’t make it out of this opening sequence alive, thus keeping the buddy-cop formula in-tact, but Dowse doesn’t present Morris as the inferior partner; in fact she’s got brass and more tenacity than Vic, though, he’s got the stamina. Their opponent - and main antagonist of “Stuber” - is a martial arts expert and star of “The Raid: Redemption,” Iko Uwais, who gets into a brief spar with Bautista as the two incorporate slick, improvised, wrestling moves and crash through a fair share of concrete walls before the dust settles and Morris is predictably slain.
Fast forward six months later to the day of Vic’s Lasik surgery, which he stupidly scheduled on the date of his daughter’s big art gallery opening - a contrived subplot that attempts to offer up some humanity to Vic’s overlying arch in which he needs to work on both his swearing and people skills. And so when he gets a call from his old partner claiming that a big drop is supposed to happen that day - which could be his chance for revenge - he commanders Stu’s Uber - after crashing his own vehicle - and demand he drives him to the bust, seemingly deputizing and endangering the poor schlep in one sitting.
The two offer a winning combination and contrast to the other. Vic is clearly a rolling bulldozer with spit-fire intensity, while Stu comes across as a witty but easily stepped upon wimp who is constantly stuck in the friendzone. The Uber model has a tendency of throwing average everyday folk into weird and stingy ride-sharing situations, so it makes the hilarity and comedic timing of “Stuber” that much more potent.
Their “ride” takes the two all over California in one strange location after another, as Vic is chasing down the bad guys while Stu is trying to offer small talk to counteract the awkward silence. And clearly Clancy has an affection for the old school way of staging integrations, because the screenwriter picks an assortment of clever spots - a gay strip club, a Sriracha-sauce factory, a veterinary clinic, for the pair to visit in their many attempts to crack the case (the scenarios are even more hilarious as Vic stumbles blindly through each one) it’s hard to figure out who is more dangerous: the bad guys or Vic?
Still the duo - specifically Nanjiani - deadpan style of dry humor is what gives “Stuber” an edge this season. That and Dowses ability to orchestrate some exciting John-Woo-esq action escapades combined with a sense of realism to the material. People die, often brutally, on screen and it isn’t sugar coated. The actors react in real time, and Nanjiani’s every-day white collar mentality get the biggest laughs because we can see a bit of ourselves in his character. He’d much rather just stand to the side and let the hulking Bautista handle the violence, and who could blame him? Stu also has a knack for using his knowledge of films (“Jaws” being the prime example) to help fight off the bad guys and let’s just say the outcome isn’t what you (or he) would expect.
Not to say Nanjiani can’t hold his own against Bautista, because “The Big Sick” star convincingly stands toe-to-toe with the former WWE beast, despite the villains and overly predictably plot leaving much to be desired late in the second half. And even though part-way through, “Stuber” can start to run on fumes, it’s not long before the mini squad hops back in the driver's seat and steers this wonderfully silly summer comedy back into this critic’s good graces.