Mismatched buddy-cop comedies go way back to the dawn of cinema. Stuber will never enter the history books as one of the greats, but a few jokes save it from being a total loss.
Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is a sporting goods employee who drives for Uber on evenings and weekends.
Get it? Stu + Uber = Stuber. That’s the level of cleverness in this movie.
Carrying on, Stu is horribly in love with his best friend, Becca (Betty Gilpin from Netflix’s GLOW), and they’re going to open a spinning gym together. When she breaks up with her crummy boyfriend and starts drunk-dialing Stu one day, he sees his opportunity to finally make his move. This serendipitous day just so happens to be the same day that detective Vic (Dave Bautista) gets a hot tip to find the drug kingpin (Iko Uwais) who shot his partner long ago. And Vic’s daughter’s art show. And the day that Vic gets Lasik eye surgery. Because Vic cannot drive, he hires an Uber to go hunt the terrible criminal. Seems like a perfect setup for plenty of hilarity.
All of these potential comedic triggers are lined up in a row like wooden ducks just waiting to be shot down in a carnival game. There’s no subtlety of orchestration. The plot points and characterization nuggets are presented plainly and rapidly. Stuber cuts to the chase to get to the jokes.
I will admit, some of the jokes are pretty darn funny. However, the best bits are merely Nanjiani going on and on about the absurdity of the whole situation. Playing his hysterics off Bautista’s straight man is an easy win for the film, but doesn’t necessitate any chemistry between the two leads, which is convenient because there is none.
The only noble aspect of Stuber, that sadly feels a little forced, is its criticism of stifled masculinity. Both Stu and Vic are a little reserved when it comes to expressing their emotions, and they coach one another through owning their feelings and communicating them to the people who need to hear them most. There’s also a smart takedown of the myth of the “friend zone” which shows that a little communication and a lot of supportive friendship is not a bad thing. It’s refreshing to see this actively discussed in a widely released film, as it’s an important message, though it’s dealt with hamfistedly.
Perhaps the worst facet of Stuber is the confusing camerawork, which lays on two levels: it’s confusing why the camera behaves so erratically in any action or action-adjacent scene, and those scenes themselves are confusing because the camerawork makes it difficult to see what’s going on. Within the first few minutes of the film is an extended fight scene, and it’s truly difficult to follow the action with the camera shaking all over the place. It’s erratic, distracting, and not a substitute for expertise in filmmaking.
The plot is forced, the characters single-dimensional, and the action hard to follow, but with a handful of solid jokes Stuber nearly has the same entertainment value as a 30-minute comedy special.