James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay// Film Critic
In a summer where several sequels and remakes have been either poorly received or bombed with audiences, there is STUBER – an action comedy that’s not nearly as miserable as its title.
While that’s not glowing praise director Michael Dowse’s (WHAT IF, GOON) film is an original story that follows an action-comedy template that allows its two leads, Dave Bautista (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK), to spar with relative humor all in hopes of doing a little ass kicking while searching for a well-adjusted spectrum of masculinity.
This age old pairing of the grizzled tough guy and the nebbish “beta male” forming a love/hate relationship (as they learn about themselves over a long night of car chases and gun fights) hasn’t grown stale just yet. STUBER won’t be in the pantheon of odd couple pairings, but it’s a highly digestible film that delights in dynamics of its mismatched pair by staying grounded in character motivations and heightening the silliness with mediocre action beats. There’s a sweetness to STUBER that makes it worth forking over the surge prices at the local megaplex.
By now you are wondering what in the hell “Stuber” means. Well, the leading man is named Stu (Nanjiani) and he drives an Uber as his side hustle. (Stu + Uber = STUBER which = stupid.) Stu’s been having trouble rising above his station in life. He constantly gets razzed by his crummy boss Richie ( Jimmy Tatro), he sometimes sleeps with his best friend/secret lover Becca (Betty Gilpin), but neither avenue in his life is developing into permanence. By movie happenstance, Stu crosses paths with Vic (Dave Bautista), a grumpy cop who has an agenda to capture drug cartel bad guy person, Teijo (Iko Uwais), all with impaired vision (hence why he needs an Uber).
Once these guys get together in the car, their dynamic is constantly shifting, but Stu is looking to bail so he can booty call with Becca while Vic finds ways to pull him back into his vigilante shenanigans. STUBER is at its best when Bautista and Nanjiani are left to their own devices as they react to these increasingly preposterous situations. While this film isn’t out to set the world on fire with its forward thinking message, it slyly is a commentary on modern masculinity and how that form of identity can take on many forms. You don’t have to be a cop with the frame of a brahma bull to flaunt your own form of non toxic machismo.
The action and comedy are supposed to work in tandem with a film like STUBER, and they each feel like they belong in different movies here. There’s very little cohesiveness in terms of its tone. Take, for example, Indonesian action star Uwais, who is a bonafide legend martial artists; he gets two extended fight scenes that are cut together nicely, but the choreography is lacking for an actor with that level of talent. If STUBER could have blended its two disparate elements together, the film could have achieved the same success as last year’s sleeper hit GAME NIGHT.
Look, if you’ve seen the trailer for STUBER, and think to yourself, “I like action. I enjoy laughing. I’ve got 90 minutes to spare,” then you will get exactly what is expected. This is a serviceable film that does its job with workmanlike precision. Bautista and Nanijiani are delightful individuals, but this project was never going to set the world on fire. No Uber joke here – just a serviceable movie that provides respite from the heat.