Director: Michael Dowse
Screenwriter: Tripper Clancy
Starring: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Mira Sorvino, Natalie Morales, Jimmy Tatro, Betty Gilpin, Karen Gillan
Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) star as a cop and his uber driver in 2019 action comedy Stuber, a new take on the buddy cop genre from It’s All Gone Pete Tong and What If director Michael Dowse which takes inspiration from Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys to deliver an enjoyable but far from groundbreaking funny actioner that will come and go about as quick as an Uber driver’s illusive 5-star rating.
Taking advantage of Bautista’s and Nanjiani’s recent rises to prominence, Stuber combines the comedy chops of the two vastly different performers to offer the genre’s most prized possession: believable opposites in the roles of Good Cop and Bad Cop – the twist to the formula here being that Nanjiani isn’t actually a cop at all, but an uber driver. It’s hardly the genre deconstruction offered in The Nice Guys, but it is if nothing else a loving embrace of the tropes Shane Black’s 2016 release so gleefully unraveled.
Following a shaky opening that sees Bautista land in Nanjiani’s Uber because of short term blindness caused by laser eye surgery – which acts as just one example of the screenplay’s lack of imagination – Stuber grows into its own as a serviceable if unremarkable 90 minutes of throwaway fun, the kind of film that would be a good choice for a watch-along.
Some of the jokes miss, but a lot of them hit, and some hit quite spectacularly, while most of the action is weaved into servicing character, narrative or laughs in a way that ensures the picture stays largely entertaining throughout.
If you’ve seen a buddy cop movie before, you’ll recognise the formula. One cop loves the job and will stop at nothing to see justice served, the other just wants to get home to eat dinner, see his wife or, in this case, have sex with his best friend (Betty Gilpin). It’s hardly “I’m too old for this” Lethal Weapon, but it’ll do, especially when Bautista and Nanjiani deliver everything with such a tangible chemistry.
Perhaps most significantly, Stuber’s delivery of the typical buddy cop elements of Lethal Weapon and The Nice Guys does lend itself to critical engagement of the genre’s historical prejudices and representations of masculinity, the largest difference between the two leads here not being their professions or their appearances but instead their versions of masculinity: Bautista being compared to Steven Seagal by Nanjiani in the film as the aggressive muscle bound hero typical of an 80s action flick, and Nanjiani being the more modern, self-reflective, smaller and more socially conscious star of modern times, Bautista grunting at him to “man up”. As you could expect from any such tension, lessons are learned on both sides, the modern hero adapting to a more aggressive historical approach and the classic hero becoming more open with his feelings, his trust and his ability to use a smart phone. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to warrant time served, a glimpse into the potential of the idea at its heart.
While Stuber isn’t going to be the first name on everyone’s lips, nor one to stick in the memory for a prolonged period of time, it is a genuinely entertaining piece of cinema that ought to bring a few smiles to faces. If not for the buddy cop formula (which remains a trustworthy source of light-heartedness despite its limited number of appearances over recent years), then Bautista and Nanjiani ought to do the trick, the moments of genuine belly laughter being the icing on the cake.
Stuber isn’t in the same league as recent buddy cop movies The Nice Guys and 21 Jump Street but it offers enough to look beyond its obvious product placement and most unimaginative elements to bring it home leaps beyond the likes of Chips and Let’s Be Cops.