September 28, 2020

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Action-comedy leaves a lot to be desired

Stuber's script a bit too on-the-nose in satiric dynamics

Kumail Nanjiani as Stu, Dave Bautista as Vic, and Pico the Pibble in “Stuber.”</p>

Kumail Nanjiani as Stu, Dave Bautista as Vic, and Pico the Pibble in “Stuber.”

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/7/2019 (442 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Stuber is a buddy action-comedy that pairs up a tough, hard-edged cop and a woke, sensitive millennial. Given that premise, one can almost anticipate the jokes: the civilized civilian tsk-tsking brutality and gunplay and the tough cop grousing about overt displays of emotion, non-violence and electric cars.

Scratch the 21st-century surface, though, and the movie is very much constructed along the lines of an ’80s buddy action-comedy. In fact, director Michael Dowse (Goon, The F Word) has cited specifically 48 HRS and Midnight Run as inspirations. Stuber very much follows in the vein of the latter, which, you may recall, saw rough-and-tumble bounty hunter Robert De Niro suffering the liberal civility of fugitive accountant Charles Grodin.

In the Grodin-esque role here is Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) as Stu, a buttoned-up decent guy trying to get ahead and win the girl of his dreams (Betty Gilpin) while toiling in a sporting goods store and spending all his spare time driving for Uber.

Stu has the bad luck to get hired by Vic (Dave Bautista), a dogged cop out to avenge the murder of his partner at the hands of psychopathic drug lord Tedjo (Iko Uwais of The Raid).

Unfortunately, Vic gets a tip about the bad guy’s whereabouts on the same day he gets Lasik surgery.

Effectively blind, Vic recklessly blunders ahead on his investigation by hiring Stu to drive him around from informant to gangster to male strip club.

If you ask why Vic doesn’t just call for backup from, like, another cop, the answer is: because then there wouldn’t be a movie.

Hopper Stone / 20th Century Fox</p><p>Sensitive millennial Kumail Nanjiani (left) and Dave Bautista, a hard-edged cop, team up in the action-comedy Stuber. </p></p>

Hopper Stone / 20th Century Fox

Sensitive millennial Kumail Nanjiani (left) and Dave Bautista, a hard-edged cop, team up in the action-comedy Stuber.

In any case, the film’s satiric rundown of 21st-century masculinity all too easily slides into standard action set pieces.

Nanjiani leavens the proceedings with an anti-macho sensibility, including screaming and crying, yes, but also stopping Vic from torturing a would-be informant by simply threatening to humiliate the recalcitrant thug on his own Twitter feed.

Bautista, who has shown his comedy chops as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy, is a startling physical foil to the comparatively slight Nanjiani.

The film offers up an interesting panoply of female representations in the background, including Vic’s sympathetic superior (Mira Sorvino) and his estranged artist daughter (Natalie Morales).

Dowse, who blended violence and comedy more effectively in Goon, injects some novelty in the action sequences, especially in the opening fight-chase.

But the script by Tripper Clancy is a little too on-the-nose in its satiric dynamics. A movie more like Midnight Run would have let the characters live and breathe organically beyond the strictures of masculine archetypes.

That’s why Midnight Run is still watchable 31 years after it was made. It’s doubtful you’ll be able to say the same thing about Stuber three decades hence.

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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