Stuber is a violent, predictable, underwhelming, and even plodding two-star ride.
I’ve been debating if the use of Uber in the new comedy Stuber was added during to the script originally, later, or if the studio created a bidding war between ride-share apps to finance a film for an easy payday. There is an utter lack of originality in the film’s script that I thought was made by the people who gave us Like Father, a comedy that was a 90-minute Netflix original infomercial for Royal Carribean. While Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s film isn’t as product placement heavy as that film, their new comedy could have just as easily been called Styft.
What exactly went wrong with the team behind Stuber? I can only guess the film’s script was built around a sponsorship, and the same Hollywood formula was used to build an action buddy comedy without attention to a detailed casting process. That equation usually combines tying two comedic actors together like a three-legged race, one who has an acting background, the other one has a knack for creating comedy out of the rambling dialogue. Essentially, this is where director Michael Dowse’s film caves in on itself in.
The puzzling lack of chemistry between the leads is apparent. There was very little snap in their verbal dialogue without any real comic crackle; there was more chummy camaraderie between Turner and Hooch, frankly. Essentially, this is a marriage, and while separately Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) have shined in various comic roles, this doesn’t mean they are meant to lead a film together or what is best for the film itself.
Each actor has their comic moments in Stuber, but work better as the straight man. Nanjiani doesn’t fit the mold of an Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, or Kevin Hart, who bring a liveliness or even a verve to any film scene when needed, while Bautista, who has shown comic ability in smaller roles, lacks the charisma and physical comedy of The Rock or a Melissa McCarthy. Each actor plays outside their comfort zone and both playing the straight man at various times. The low energy both actors bring to their scenes together leads to a plodding dialogue between them that may be mildly amusing at times, but rarely create a laugh out loud moment.
I’ve heard a lot of pundits defend this comedy by reading into the film’s script elements of toxic masculinity; as if this was a reason to defend it. Of course, both leads are polar opposites and bring varying qualities of what it means to be a man. The issues is that this wasn’t what this film was going for entirely and was displayed within greater detail in director Michael Dowse’s hockey cult-favorite Goon (where Sean William Scott and Jay Baruchel play nicely off one another). Dowse uses this theme subtly, the way Cuaron uses political uprising as a faint backdrop in nearly all his films.
That’s not the main focus of the film, however. It worked better as a straight action picture in the film’s opening minutes and more often than not keeps missing the mark when it comes to making its audience laugh. Supporting characters played by Betty Gilpin (GLOW) and Steve Howey (City on a Hill) get the most out of their super-reduced roles, with Gilpin creating the only real laugh out loud moment. While many will applaud a film that isn’t a comic book adaptation, sequel, or reboot, if you refer back to my opening paragraph in this review — is it really an original idea when the idea behind it was to promote product placement? That’s not so original at all.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.