From the Archives: Stuber is an action comedy with too little of either

From the Archives: Stuber is an action comedy with too little of either

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

If you’re going to bill your movie as an “action comedy” and then open your movie with an extended action sequence, it is imperative that the action direction in your movie not suck entirely. An unspoken rule in action filmmaking is that if you’ve got Iko Uwais on your payroll to do martial arts, it is your duty to make his work visible rather than shooting it with a GoPro strapped to a vibrator. Such is the painful truth one immediately must make peace with if they plan to enjoy Stuber, the latest attempt at a buddy comedy which also serves as an extended commercial (and how-to manual) for the semi-titular ride-sharing service.

Stuber places mild-mannered Uber driver Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) into the path of angry police officer Vic (Dave Bautista). Vic’s partner was killed a few months back during the terrible opening action sequence, and ever since then he’s been a real mess about it. He wants vengeance, but his quest hasn’t been even remotely successful. Worse than that, his obsession with the case has alienated his daughter. Today, just after getting laser eye surgery, Vic randomly receives a lead. Since he’s effectively blind for the next day or so, he can only chase down this promising lead by calling an Uber to drive him around. His Uber driver, as you know, is Stu.

Stu’s colleagues refer to him as “Stuber” because his name is Stu and he drives an Uber.

Stu + Uber = Stuber

That’s one of the funnier things in this movie, and it isn’t funny.

You can pretty much put together the rest. Stu is what boring people would call a beta male, while Vic is pure alpha. This, of course, leads to a personality clash between the two men. Vic needs to stop being so aggressive and learn to feel other emotions besides anger. Stu needs to stop being such a pushover and “man up” so to speak. Most of the humor is derived from the fact that Vic doesn’t really say much while Stu can’t help but run his mouth at all times. It’s clear that this movie is one of those post-Apatow comedies where the filmmakers let the lead performers riff for a while and then cut together the best parts and call it a movie. While Apatow’s films are often quite funny, imitators like this one often assemble their stories at the expense of comedic rhythm. The reason improv comedy works is timing, not material. By assembling portions of extended riffs, you get material with no timing. And since it was created in an improv space, the material isn’t very strong on its own.

This also comes at the expense of character. Since we are seeing highlights of riffs, we are not getting any consistency of character. Stu is sometimes the most pathetic creature on the planet, unable to confront anyone…except when he totally can. And this is irrespective of his supposed arc. He’s like this at the outset all the way through to the end. Same goes for Vic. He’s stoic enough that the absence of character consistency doesn’t feel so egregious, but the lack of a discernible arc remains the same. He’s a big, brooding jerk at the beginning and a big, brooding jerk at the end. It’s a shame because both performers have proven themselves to be naturally funny and incredibly charismatic, but it doesn’t come through here. It’s a total mismatch of talent to material. You get the sense this script was originally written for The Rock and Kevin Hart, but they turned it down to make the other 400 projects they’re currently working on together.

Since I’m me, the fact that Vic’s recovery from laser eye surgery only leaves him blind when the script needs funnies really bugged me. He’s falling over himself blind in one moment, then shooting bad guys with pinpoint accuracy in another. If this movie had a better script, they could’ve milked this for soooo much good humor. But it doesn’t and they didn’t

To be fair, the numbers game dictates that a few chunks of dialogue earn a chuckle, but mostly this just served as a reminder not to hold Nanjiani or Bautista liable for this cinematic offense. Both of these performers are good enough that I’m going to see their work on name inclusion alone, and since I’m sure that’s the case for other potential viewers, don’t be fooled. Lowered expectations will help you enjoy this more than I did.

Stuber is now playing in Philly theaters.

Leave a Reply