WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After his partner is killed in the line of duty, LAPD Detective, Vic Manning, becomes obsessed with catching her killer. When a new lead comes in that may finally enable him to take down the man who had been plaguing his every thought for the past six months, he receives it only moments after getting corrective eye surgery that leaves him temporarily blind. Not wanting to lose his chance, he calls on the help of an Uber driver named Stu to help him follow his nemesis’ increasingly dangerous trail.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The odd-couple buddy movie may have met its apotheosis in either Hot Fuzz or Midnight Run (depending on who you ask) but, since kicking off in earnest in the 1980s, the genre has included literally dozens of largely well-received, largely male-centric movies where two disparate personalities (though usually of the same sex) are forced to work together, and after a harrowing adventure teaches them both a goodly lesson or two, they end up as the bestest buddies ever. It’s a genre that is super formulaic and usually more than a little ridiculous but, as the “macho” equivalent of the rom-com, it’s the sort of comfort-food cinema that is hard to get wrong.
On paper, Stuber should fit neatly into that tradition and, though it was unlikely to ever come out as anything truly noteworthy, it should have been, at the very least, a pretty damn good time at the cinema. Director, Michael Dowse has done some solid and often underrated work in the past on films, and TV shows that if not outright comedies, usually have at least some comedic component to them. Admittedly, screenwriter Tipper Clancy’s CV is rather less impressive and rather more German, but Dowse has been around long enough to have at least some idea of what a halfway decent script looks like.
Most importantly, it stars Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, two perhaps unlikely leading men whose massive likeability and excellent comedic timing have led to them both being embraced by the public and critics alike. As screen-presences go, they could hardly be more different, of course, and they come from wildly divergent backgrounds but that only makes their pairing all the more intriguing and rife with comedic potential.
Sadly, though it is saved from utter worthlessness by a typically funny (but less so than usual) Nanjiani, it is one of the worst examples of the genre to come along in quite some time. Its plot is incredibly uninteresting, to be sure, and it’s even more predictable than you already suspect, but these aren’t the sort of things to sink this sort of flick. What really does this film in is its underlying nastiness and its utter inability to make the usually incredibly likeable Bautista into a truly hateful character that is absolutely no fun whatsoever to be around.
People have accused Bad Boys II of being self-indulgent, uninspired, mean-spirited and a truly embarrassingly display of self-serious macho bravado but in comparison with this, Bad Boys II looks like, well, Hot Fuzz. Bad Boys II, after all, at least had the undeniable Smith/Lawrence comedic chemistry to help it overcome director Michael Bay’s increasingly grubby tendencies. Though I can watch Nanjiani riff all day long, the only advantage that Stuber (so-called because Nanjiani’s character is named Stu and he drives an Uber and... yeah) has over BBII is that its only ninety-minutes long.
I generally have little time for “woke” film criticism – you know, the sort of thing where a work of art is evaluated primarily according to how well it adheres to a certain form of political correctness rather than how good it is as a film/book/album/whatever – but Stuber is so retrograde in its approach to masculinity and so stupidly out of step with current perceptions of those in law enforcement that it’s hard not to feel like you’re watching something that is genuinely rotten (or at least horribly misguided) down to its core. I generally love irreverent comedies that gleefully meet political correctness – be it coming from the left or the right – with everyone’s favourite middle-fingered salute but as much as I truly hate to say it, where are those horribly annoying PC-police when you need them?
Why the (hopefully only once-off) change of attitude? Perhaps its Stuber’s lack of self-awareness; its belief that telling us that, would you know it, men have emotions too, is in any way profound. Alternatively, it might just be that the action scenes are so badly handled (so much shaky-cam) and the plot is so mind-numbingly boring that all you’re left to hold onto for vast stretches of the film are its political blunders. Surprisingly, it’s certainly not the cynical reality that this whole thing is a glorified advert for Uber because let’s be honest, Stuber does them few favours.
Honestly, though, it’s probably that Bautista’s character is so unbearably abrasive, so utterly without charm and so entirely unsympathetic (I mean, I’m pissed off that the always great Karen Gillen was knocked off in the first few minutes of the film too, but, c’mon dude, do you really have to be such a dick about it?) that it’s all but impossible not to have the phrase “toxic masculinity” flash before you in huge, neon colours. There’s nothing wrong with displaying this sort of character on-screen, but it’s quite another to present him as the full-on hero of the piece without the slightest hint of irony. If even the guy who played Drax: The Destroyer can’t save this character, you know there’s something amiss...
Again, the film is saved from total damnation by a typically charming and funny Kumail Nanjiani – I would much, much rather have just watched a film about his character’s girl and work problems – but, to be frank, between this and the widely ignored Men In Black: International, he should probably consider starring only in movies that he writes or co-writes himself. You would think he just won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, so steep is the decline in quality, in less than two years, from the brilliant The Big Sick to this complete and utter pablum.
Eh, he’ll be fine: he’s more than good enough to escape such a dud relatively unscathed.
I would be much more worried about Dave Bautista, whose declaring that he wouldn’t do Fast and Furious because he’d rather do “good films” while promoting Stuber, was, perhaps, not the smartest move in an industry that does love its dramatic irony...