Stuber on the surface looks like something you’ve seen many times before. The buddy cop subgenre has been done to death in both film and TV, that it feels like there’s little to do at this point that makes a new addition stand out. When starting Stuber, it seems like it’s going to stay within the platitudes of the genre, including the two opposite leads. But quickly after that, you see that director Michael Dowse and screenwriter Tripper Clancy are using those cliches to surprise the audience with a genuinely funny and surprisingly heartfelt film.
In one of Los Angeles’ hottest days on record, Vic (Dave Bautista), a cop who has just undergone eye surgery, has discovered a lead on a vicious criminal he’s been chasing for months. But do to his brief disability, he cannot do his job alone, and must seek assistance in going around the city to various locations to trace him. This is where Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) comes in, who is desperate for cash and a 5 star rating. The two travel around from location to location looking for any clues, all the while getting to know each other. Their different personalities clash while trying to overcome the people and things standing in their respective goals.
Again, as stated earlier, this sounds generic. It even begins with the tragic backstory for the cop that has poor fight choreography that continues throughout the film. With a rushed relationship as well to try to make you feel something. It’s so rushed and forced that it almost feels like the film is parodying previous films that does that. But after that scene, Stuber really takes off. This film is hilarious, that needs to be said right off the bat. The set ups and payoffs are some of the best I’ve seen from a studio comedy this year, leaving the audience howling in it. But it isn’t just because the movie has the characters swearing or any other gratuitous activities. It also highlights the craftiness of the two characters. One good example is the propane tank scene that’s shown in the trailers where, I won’t say how, it does not go as presented, and is way better for it.
Nanjiani and Bautista are perfect together, their chemistry lighting up each scene. You can tell each time they’re not on screen together the movie, while it still works, doesn’t have the same energy. Their banter not only makes up most of the film’s charm, but it also offers the film’s most interesting aspects. That being, what makes someone a man? The dynamic in how they approach things both in the main case and their personal lives is surprisingly nuanced, with both characters having understandable positions with clear flaws, and the film doesn’t demean either character for their flaws, while still not presenting them as justified. These two characters are so good that I wish the rest of the cast, particularly Iko Uwais and Mira Sorvino, weren’t so underused and actually got more development. The waste of the former’s fighting skills is also really a shame.
Directing wise, Michael Dowse (Goon) helps make the film much more interesting in terms of camerawork and editing…for the most part. Conversations and car chases keep your attention and are edited and shot in a unique way, that uses editing just enough. It’s the fight scenes though unfortunately that fall apart. Usually it’s either too many quick edits or overly shaky camerawork that tries to hide the poor choreography, sometimes both even. There’s even a moment in the final fight where an actor literally pauses so the camera can catch up. Compared to producers John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein’s previous directorial work Game Night, it feels disappointing. But it is still an admirable effort to stand out.
Stuber is an enjoyable time that takes what can easily be a boring concept/easy commercial for Uber. But the leads, clever script and delivery easily bring it up. It stands out in a summer of forgettable blockbusters. One can only hope Disney does not bury this film. The filmmakers deserve better.