It is no secret that I am a fan of wrestlers in movies. I’m also a massive fan of buddy cop movies, which you can learn more about in this weekend’s FlixList. So when I found out that former WWE Champion and Guardians of the Galaxy comedy legend, Dave Bautista was starring in Stuber, an action-thriller rideshare comedy, with one of my favorite comedians/solid dramatic actor Kumail Nanjiani I was definitely ready to request a ride.
Unfortunately, a film that centers around its main character’s obsession with getting 5 stars is, like its driver, far from perfect. Stuber is fun when it is just Bautista and Nanjiani talking, but when it steps on the gas and tries to be something more its tank is empty.
Director: Michael Dowse
Release Date: July 12, 2009
Nanjiani stars as Stu, a down on his luck Sporting Goods store employee who has a side business driving as an Uber driver. We learn that the main reason Stu is driving for the ride share giant is he is trying to raise the funds to start a business with the love of his life, Becca (Betty Gilpin). There are just a few problems with his plan, the first being he must keep his driver rating over four stars (he starts the movies at a 4.1,) and Becca has no idea Stu is in love with her.
The drive to keep his star rating over four stars completely takes over Stu’s personality and makes him obsessive, desperate, and at times unlikeable. My favorite thing about Stuber is the complexity of its two main characters. Neither are easy to like, and neither are cliche archetypes in any way. This is refreshing and inventive, unlike the rest of the movie.
Stuber’s other complex character is Vic Manning, a detective, played by Bautista, who still carries over the muscled up aloofness of Guardians‘ Drax, but with a tiny more under the surface. The film begins with Manning and his partner, another Guardians of the Galaxy star, Karen Gillian, on the mission for Tedjo, a drug kingpin. The two detectives discover their man and what ensues is a chaotic, disorienting fight scene that is more nausea-inducing than exhilarating. The sharp camera movements and cutting editing make you think the director really liked John Wick but didn’t have the time to learn how to pull off incredible fight choreography and cinematography.
After Tedjo gets away, Manning is obsessed with finding him and bringing him to justice. After the chief of police (Mira Sorvino) tells Manning they are handing the case over to the FBI, Manning is devastated. He decides to take time off and have Lasik eye surgery and spend more time with his daughter. After successful surgery and lunch with his daughter, played by Natalie Morales, Manning gets a phone call that a huge drug drop is happening that night and his guy, Tedjo, will be there. Just a few problems, the surgery hasn’t set in yet, so he can’t see and he can’t drive. After trying to drive anyway and driving his car into a massive hole, Manning calls for an Uber.
Enter Stu, or Stuber. Manning jumps on in and the real fun of this movie begins as Stu is forced to join Manning on a mission to find Tedjo, which results in intense action, violence, and, at the end of it all, big time self discovery.
Nanjiani is a star. He carries the weight of the film by simultaneously being hilarious but also incredibly complex. Nanjiani displayed incredible range in The Big Sick and we see that displayed here. Bautista is funny as usual and has a few moments of displaying emotion that aren’t exactly ever going to win him an Academy Award, but I bought it. The two definitely have an incredibly enjoyable chemistry and it is the only reason the film works.
There are a countless number of scenes that are laugh out loud funny, unfortunately about half of them are in the trailer. However, the film really struggles when it tries to be more than just a buddy comedy. Nearly all of my complaints with this film center around directorial choices and a lack of originality. There is so much of other movies in Stuber, the blending of music and literal involvement with certain songs are clearly odes to Edgar Wright and Quinton Tarantino, but it feels forced. The action and fight scenes are trying to resemble The Raid or John Wick but they all fall flat. The movie has two incredible comedic leads but its director Michael Dowse (Good, What If) can’t seem to decide what genre he wants his film to be. It completely lacks originality and just feels like a movie you have seen before but with fresher faces.
That being said, it was a lot of fun. Nanjiani deserves to have even more vehicles (no pun intended) that display his comedic/dramatic talents. Bautista is definitely not the best actor, but like Dwayne Johnson, he has unmistakable energy on the screen that is a joy to watch. I wish there was a lot more Betty Gilpin in the movie and if the film does well enough at the box office I wouldn’t be surprised if it was greenlit for a sequel. It might not be the worst idea to let these two give it another go, with some much-needed alterations. Stuber is far from perfect and definitely not a 5-star ride, but it’s worth seeing for Kumail and Bautista.