Movie Guru: Kumail Nanjiani is best part of “Stuber,” which by the way, has an unsettling premise
To really work, “Stuber” needs to take itself less seriously.
The movie starts with Vic (played by Dave Bautista), a cop who loses his young partner in a bust gone wrong. Fast forward several months, and Vic has one last chance to catch the guy who killed his partner before he loses the case to the Feds. The only problem is, an inconveniently timed eye surgery means he can’t see well enough to drive. To solve this problem, he calls for an Uber and forces the driver (played by Kumail Nanjiani) to help track the criminal down.
It wants to be “Beverly Hills Cop;” leaving audiences to pay way too much attention to the inherently unsettling premise. The movie eventually settles into being entertaining, largely thanks to Nanjiani, but a goofier tone would have helped. When you’re asking audiences to accept what is essentially a kidnapping, you need as much slapstick as possible.
Keen-eyed movie fans will notice that the plot is remarkably similar to 2004’s “Collateral,” which billed itself as a terrifying thriller. While it’s true that the earlier movie had a contract killer kidnap a taxi driver, the fact that “Stuber” has a cop do it only makes it more cringeworthy. The situation is just as dangerous for the poor driver — if not more so — and he’s just as powerless to do anything about it.
With that scenario at the forefront of the movie, it’s kind of tough to see the humor in a movie that bills itself as a comedy. Nanjiani carries most of the laughs for the first half of the movie, bringing his usual deadpan humor to what is undoubtedly the worst day of this poor man’s life. The scene where he accidentally offers emotional support to a male stripper being yelled at by his manager is the first time I felt I could really enjoy watching the movie. He’s also a big reason a later scene in a sporting goods store is quite as hilarious as it is.
Bautista tries, but in general he tends to handle the action better than the humor. The scene where he tries to drive blind is pretty funny, but it’s not until the back half of the movie that he really seems to settle into his character. Part of this is the script, which has him being too mean to Nanjiani’s character before that point. The entire movie depends on their chemistry, but it takes too long for them to get there, and as a result, the movie falls flat.
Once you see their characters playing off each other, however, the movie somehow manages to work despite all its flaws. The interplay between the two is oddly entertaining, and at the same time gets more real than you’d expect. It’s enough that the emotional payoff at the end works, even though it probably shouldn’t.
Hopefully, they’ll team up again in a movie with a slightly less unsettling premise.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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