Dave Bautista recently said on Twitter that he won’t star in any Fast and Furious movies because he only wants to be in ‘good films.’ It’s fitting then that he spends most of buddy cop comedy Stuber flailing around not looking where he is going, temporarily blind following eye surgery. If Michael Dowse’s uneven farce is what Bautista has his eyes fixed upon, he’d be better off looking elsewhere.
The set-up is a satisfying Hollywood staple. Vic (Bautista) is an over-aggressive, over-muscular LAPD policeman on the hunt for a heroin dealer. He forces the mild-mannered Uber driver Stu (The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani) to drive him around town to catch him. Stu ultimately has to help Vic beat the bad guys, although somewhat reluctantly because all he really wants is a five-star review and to have his way with the woman of his dreams. It’s about what you would expect.
Even for such a tried and tested formula, Stuber flounces most of its potential. It’s the kind of film that calls out desperately for charismatic quips and likeable characters, and suffers from a lack of either. Instead, what you get is a steamroll of a plot interspersed with awkward race-based jokes. The physical comedy and action suffers from too much shaky camera work (what shall henceforth be known as Taken syndrome) and not even Stu, who you know is meant to be the film’s heart, can add some much needed gravitas. The only character who can always be sided with is Vic’s frustrated daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), who just wants all the manly stupidity to stop. She won’t be the only one.
The story tries to keep things basic, but in doing so relies too heavily on bruising stereotypes with – it has to be said – distinctly prejudiced undertones. You have your weakling South Asian taxi driver whose rare shows of strength are purely for laughs, the same curse that plagues Dopinder in the Deadpool movies. There is the East Asian bad guy who of course has to be amazing at martial arts because that’s what East Asian bad guys are like. Finally, there is Becca (Betty Gilpin), the white woman on the white wine who after a few drinks is ready for casual sex with Stu at the drop of a glass. Characterisation is crucial for films like this to work, a fact known since at least the Lethal Weapon movies. Here it is utterly tragic.
The one ray of light is the chemistry between Bautista and Nanjiani. The latter has some good moments where he rises above the mediocrity of the role he has been assigned. Bautista meanwhile goes by the book with his grizzled cop act, although he doesn’t yet have the charisma of, say, The Rock to carry a film through its flaws. The brief conversations they have about masculinity and what ‘real men’ are like are always welcome in a genre that continues to be dominated by hypermasculine macho men. Unfortunately, they too are often wasted, opening the doors for more half-hearted attempts at comedy gold.
A waste of a strong central pairing and a twist on a classic storyline, this is an overwhelmingly weak stab at a meaningful comedy. Had it made an effort for genuine poignancy, Stuber could have really had something to say.
Stuber is out in cinemas now, distributed by 20th Century Fox.