NANJIANI AND BAUTISTA SHINE IN A MOVIE
THAT NEVER REACHES ITS POTENTIAL
Buddy cop movies have been around for quite some time. More often than not, the formula of these cinematic endeavors is relatively the same with some minor tweaks made to the story being told. While the narrative might be predictable (to a certain degree), the acting talents of the two buddy cops characters is what usually draws upon the film’s strengths by showcasing how their initial polar opposite interaction of each other morphs into something more cohesive and respectable manner. As mentioned, there has been plethora of buddy cop features released in Hollywood, finding some to be better than others like 21 Jump Street, The Heat, Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, and many others. Now, 20th Century Fox and director Michael Dowse present the latest interpretation of the “buddy cop” yarn with the movie Stuber. Does this action / comedy movie find its place amongst past endeavors of the buddy cop genre or does it stall in a less-than funny movie project?
Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is trying to make a living in today’s world, working at a sporting goods store by day and driving for Uber after hours. In addition, Stu is recently become a small-business owner with his secret crush, Becca (Betty Gilpin), looking to pull a few more extra hours with Uber, despite the constant grind of the driving service with the various stereotypes of people he’s driving around. Enter LAPD Detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), who leaps in his car, demanding Stu to take him to a location where he can bust a dangerous drug lord, Teijo (Iko Unwais). On the trail for the elusive bad guy for years, even losing his last partner to the drug lord, Vic will stop at nothing to bring Teijo to justice, even if it means having to pursue him on the same day as his Lasik eye surgery. With much in the way of blurry sight, Vic needs a chauffer to bust some bad guys and follow the clues towards Teijo, only Stu is too timid to lead the hunt, desperate to get out of his sticky situation and desperate to score rebound sex with Becca instead. With the clock ticking to a major drug deal in town, Vic keeps Stu on a tight leash, with the pair dealing multiple setbacks and confronting personal problems in their respective lives.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Been an amateur film critic and just a general person who loves movies, I’ve seeing my fair share of buddy cop movies out there. As I stated above, some stuff has changed (by ways and means of adapting to the time period and current trends of filmmaking), but buddy cops have remained relatively the same over the years by keeping the tried and true narrative formula intact and I have to say…. down pat. Usually what makes the film endeavor more credible / memorable (at least to me) is a combination of the writing and the acting talents involved on the project. Movies like 21 Jump Street (and its sequel), The Heat, Bad Boys (and its sequel), Hot Fuzz, Lethal Weapon (I like the first one best) are some of my personal favorites and demonstrate the fun aspect / nuances of a buddy cop endeavor. However, for every good buddy cop movie there has been some disappointing ones…. such as Hot Pursuit, Let’s Be Cops, CHiPs, and Cop Out. In the end, the buddy cop subgenre of movie storytelling can be a “hit or miss”, depending on certain circumstances.
As to be expected, this comes back around to examining Stuber, a 2019 action / comedy buddy cop feature film that definitely looks to follow the formula to the “T”. While I didn’t hear much about the announcement of the movie (via online or on social media), I became aware of the movie when the film’s movie trailer dropped a few months ago. Personally, I was quite taken with the film’s trailer, which looked to be another buddy cop film, but had the amusing star power of Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista in the central roles (both of whom have become rising stars in Hollywood and with the general concession of popularity). Thus, the movie had a setup for a bonafide buddy cop movie that had potential to leave its mark on the film subgenre as one of the 2019’s “funny movies of the year”. So, I was looking forward to seeing Stuber, which I did during its opening weekend release. What did I think of it? Well, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly the best. Stuber has moments of fun and finds Nanjiani and Bautista to have great chemistry with each other, but the movie lacks potential and comes up short on its cinematic stamina.
Stuber is directed Michael Dowse, whose previous directorial works FUBAR, The Goon, and The F Word. Given past experiences of some “hits” and “misses” on past endeavors, Dowse approaches Stuber with a greater sense of what makes a buddy cop movie, utilizing the relationship of the film’s two main lead characters and bouncing off the ideas of how drastically different they are. Naturally, this is the “bread and butter” of the buddy cop angle, which has proven to work, but Dowse’s approach does have minor tweak to it, within the background of the two characters (i.e. Stu as a uber driver and Vic as a police detective with a temporary blurry eyesight). Thus, the setup of everything and staging of certain events is what Dowse executes in a well-enough fashion. Thankfully, for the most part, Dowse keeps the feature maintained on an even paced, keeping the feature’s narrative mainly focused on Stu and Vice’ ride along adventure as well as temping the 93-minute movie moving on a brisk pace.
Of a technical presentation, Stuber meets the industry standards of a theatrical feature film of the action / comedy. Naturally, the film utilizes the urban landscape of LA to uses as the story’s backdrop setting for most of the movie, so Dowse and his filmmaking team do a good enough job in providing the texture to the narrative. Of course, there’s not a whole lot that the movie needs to drum up a sense of “visual flair” with its cinematography or set pieces or even its costume wardrobe, so I’m not really gonna mention those “behind the scenes” people for the film in this review. There are a couple of cool shots here and there and slick editing of scenes together, but nothing that truly stands out. However, that’s not to say that the Stuber’s presentation looks good, but I would say that it suitable for a movie endeavor like this (again, meeting the industry standard for a modern-day action / comedy movie). Even the film’s score (composed by Joseph Trapanese) gets the job done, but none of the soundtrack composition stands out.
In effect, that’s the main problem with Stuber….it gets the job done (from start to finish), but lacks the potential to go even further than that. What do I mean? Well, given the movie’s premise, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that the movie’s story / plot is gonna be very much the exact same routine from the many past endeavors of a buddy cop movie. You know what I mean…..the experienced no-nonsense cop that’s paired with either an unexperienced cop or a civilian (something that the first cop isn’t), a big drug bust of some kind, a potential “mole” like character, and other various similarities that I could mention, but you get the idea. Stuber, despite using the Uber driver / Lasik eye surgery concepts, doesn’t really try to be anything different from that, finding majority of the film to be “coloring inside the lines” of the buddy cop narratives of the past, with not much deviation from that particular formula. The problem of this steams from both Dowse and in the movie’s script, which was penned by Tripper Clancy. On Dowse’s part, Stuber just feels like a serviceable feature project and nothing more. It’s all executed well-enough, but never feels elevated beyond the standard angst and gags found in action / comedy buddy cop movies of late.
Coinciding with that is Clancy’s script, which doesn’t push the boundaries of what already been said and done in the buddy cop genre was well. The story is serviceable (and that’s fine), but the material given to most of the characters could’ve been “beefed up” with the potential of expanding on certain side plots and its characters (all of which go back to the feature’s main two lead characters). This pertains to Vic’s relationship with his daughter and vague notion of past “daddy issues” as well as Stu’s standing up for himself rather than “going with the flow” and his relationship with his crush (Becca) and fellow boss (Richie). The script lays the grounded for many of those character build plot points, but never really fully examines something to a satisfying point. It works, but only in a serviceable capacity. The problem with Clancy’s script also extends to the feature’s comedic, which is mixed bag. Some of the comedic setups work as found myself laughing out-loud a few times, but I wasn’t uproariously laughing throughout; finding the jokes and gags in Stuber to be mostly “hit or miss” in various points. Again, the intent is there, but the script’s material never goes full-throttle with witty quips (although one about the NeverEnding Story was hilarious) and sarcastic humor. The marriage of those two problems results in making the film lacks that special something. Action is there, but decent, the comedic intention is noted, but it’s hit or miss, and the story problems are highlighted, but never really come into their own. In short, Stuber definitely had the potential to be the standout comedy of the year, but ends up falling short of the lofty aspirations, fumbling with its weak script and plenty of missed opportunities.
The cast in Stuber definitely has the makings of something fun and unique, but the film’s weak script hinders a lot of the potential to make them within the various characters (both major and minor ones). Thankfully, the acting talents selected for the film sort of help mask some of the script’s bland character builds, but their it can only go so far. Leading the charge of the movie (and perhaps the greatest asset that Stuber has) is in the actors of Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista in their respectful roles as the timid Uber driver Stu and the bulky no-nonsense LAPD detective Vic Manning. Nanjiani, known for his roles in The Big Sick, Silicon Valley, and The LEGO Ninjago Movie, has come to be a more prominent name in Hollywood and has more recent opportunities in both the big and small screen. Thus, he has also been proven to be funny in his comedic wit and dialogue delivery. Thus, he’s a perfect fit for the character of Stu, a meekly man who fits the character and definitely shines throughout the movie. Similarly, the former wrestler Bautista, known for his roles in Spectre, and several of his Marvel appearances of Drax (i.e. Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Avengers: Infinity War), has also been making a name for himself in Hollywood in a similar fashion to other former wrestlers like Dwayne Johnson and John Cena. Naturally, his delivery of lines (most notably in his Marvel character of Drax the Destroyer) has been impeccable and quite amusing as well as his sheer physical size and imitating brutish face. Thus, Bautista is perfect selection for the character of Vic Manning, showcasing the brute force and humorous charm within the masculine individual.
Together, both Nanjiani and Bautista have great on-screen chemistry as it is clearly visible when the pair are together in many of the film’s scenes. They certainly bond in the film (clearly having fun in their respective characters), so they definitely make up the two-classic persona of the buddy cop elements. Perhaps the main problem (like what I mentioned above) is that the material given to Nanjiani and Bautista is exactly the best, finding Clancy’s script being (again) problematic. Thus, despite the elevated talents of both Nanjiani and Bautista being great fits as Stu and Vic, the ultimate characterization builds (and by extension their comedic bits) fall to the wayside with caricature blandness in many parts.
In large supporting roles are the characters of Becca (Stu’s friend who he has a secret crush on) and Nicole Manning (Vic’s daughter), who are played by actresses Betty Gilpin (Isn’t It Romantic and GLOW) and Natalie Morales (Battle of the Sexes and Parks and Recreations) respectfully. Together, both Gilpin and Morales are fine in their roles and definitely showcase the capacity of what the movie wants them to project on these characters. The problem is that they could’ve been easily expanded upon in the film and the script handling by Clancy makes these characters of Becca and Natalie simple caricatures and nothing more, which is a shame since both characters draw upon Stu and Vic’s (the movie’s main leads) storylines / character builds. Beyond them, actress Mira Sorvino (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and Mighty Aphrodite) plays the character of Captain Angie McHenry (Vic’s boss). Of course, Sorvino is a talented actress from her past work, but doesn’t really bring anything new to the table in both in making her character memorable or adding any type of nuances to her portrayal of the stereotypical captain police detective. Lastly, the movie’s main antagonist character Oka Teijo, who is played by actor Iko Uwais (The Raid 2 and Wu Assassins) is more of a physical villain than a mastermind crime lord. The movie’s script mostly has Teijo running around and doing karate acrobats and, while I’m not knocking Uwais’s talents, there’s really not much to him. Thus, Teijo just feels like a weak bad guy…. or rather a weak henchmen-like baddie.
The rest of the film’s cast, including Karen Gillian (Doctor Who and Avengers: Endgame) as Vic’s former partner Sara Morris, actor Jimmy Tatro (22 Jump Street and Smallfoot) as Stu’s co-worker / boss Richie Sandusky, actor Rene Moran (Bosch and Chop Shop) as Amo Cortez, play minor supporting roles in the movie. Much like what I said above, while these acting talents are fine, two of these three characters could’ve been easily expanded upon in some way, shape, or form and could’ve added to the storylines of both Stu and Vic.
Prepare for the “uber” rideshare of your life as unexpected characters (from different backgrounds) come together to track down a drug lord in the movie Stuber. Director Michael Dowse’s latest film sees the classic buddy cop angle play out in an action / comedy arena by staging plenty of comedic laughs and action sequences along the way. Unfortunately, despite the amusing premise (the uber driver concept) and a strong chemistry performance between both Nanjiani and Bautista, majority of the film feels derivate with a “hit or miss” jokes, bland story / plot, and lacking the potential of what the movie could’ve been. Personally, I thought that the movie was somewhere between okay and vaguely good. It definitely has spurts of being funny and I love in Nanjiani and Bautista in the movie, but I was somewhat disappointed that the movie could’ve been so much better if the script was molder better and maybe even sharper within its comedic jokes and gags. Thus, my recommendation is an “rent it” as it’s not bad enough to warrant a “skip it”, but it’s really not something I would “highly recommend” as well. It’s one of those movies you watch on an airplane flight to pass the time…. if you know what I mean. In the end, Stuber lies somewhere in the middle of everything. It’s not really a terrible movie, but neither is really good. It’s just stuck in between those polar opposites in the cinematic spectrum, lacking the potential of what could’ve been something more than what was presented.
3.1 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: July 12th, 2019
Reviewed On: July 16th, 2019
Stuber is 93 minutes long and is rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity