Director: Michael Dowse
Stars: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Betty Gilpin
We live in an aggregate world. Websites like Trip Advisor and apps like Uber have made us obsessed with the highest – and lowest – scores attainable. They breed an element of competitiveness that is counter-productive. Anything less than top score isn’t worth the experience.
Rotten Tomatoes is the film world’s version of this toxic trend. Points and percentages are a quick and easy way of measuring if something is really worth our time. Half of you will have already scrolled to the bottom of this review to see the score out of five awarded to this picture. But is this quick fix method of reaching a decision really the best way to go, or should other things be brought into the conversation? And, what impact does this have on those whose services we seek, be it an Uber driver or the cast and crew of a mid-budget movie attempting to get some attention in a crowded summer resplendent with misfiring big budget behemoths?
Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is a zero-hour worker at a sporting goods store. His boss is a dick to him and he supplements his income by taking fares as an Uber driver. It is in this capacity that he crosses paths with Dave Bautista’s burly cop Vic Manning. Manning is doggedly pursuing a cop-killing heroin smuggler named Tedjo (Iko Uwais). He’s received a tip which could mean closing the case of his career. It just happens to coincide with his recovery from laser eye surgery. Effectively blinded, he needs a ride, and Stu has answered the call. The stage is set for an unlikely buddy movie that harks back fondly to the high-concept action comedies of the mid-to-late 80’s.
Any movie of this type needs its mismatched pair. Thus, Vic is a barely contained bull in a china shop playing off of Stu’s thoroughly sensitive modern man. The two bristle constantly, but Stuber struggles to find a charismatic footing. Bautista has plenty of muscles, but the comic ones he flexes so effortlessly for Guardians Of The Galaxy appear atrophied here. Nanjiani fares better, but this kind of thing requires balance, and Stuber suffers a disappointing lack of equilibrium.
It also takes a little too long for these two to get to the ‘buddy’ part of their pairing. Granted, the slapstick bust-up that sparks this phase of the film is something of a comedic high watermark for the picture, but it’s a good hour into the film’s trim (but still long-seeming) 93 minute run time. It’s also a good job nobody’s here for plot, as the film’s sole narrative twist is blown by the sheer lack of other possibilities.
Essentially the victim of a car-jacking, Stu is eager to get back to his planned evening; comforting his ‘platonic’ friend Becca (Betty Gilpin); drunk, newly dumped and looking for a quick fix of feel-good. Stu’s keenness is understandable, but this still feels like a bit of a hollow motivation for his character. Kudos to the film, then, for managing to extricate itself from this scenario in a manner that does everyone right. Who knows, maybe it’ll teach a few audience members pining for their ‘princess in another castle’ a thing or two?
The other key motivation that keeps Stu on the road with Vic is the threat of yet another poor star rating; something which might legitimately cost him his job. Uber get a lot of promotion out of the movie (and several of their services are worked smartly into the script), but Stuber still functions as a criticism of the increasingly demanding culture of approval that I started out talking about. The pressure to perform has led Stu to kit out his rental with snacks and beverages, and encouraged in him a patter which feels like strained performance. There’s an edge of desperation about all this. ‘Dance, monkey, dance’. Stuber effectively outlines how demanding expectations and the threat of corporate repercussions demeans the seemingly powerless employee. Lyft might not get a look-in, but maybe they dodged a bullet?
And then there’s the matter of how to score this movie. Anything less than 3 stars is an immediate turn-off for some people. Hell, anything less than 4 for others. But by awarding Stuber the score I’ve chosen, I’m encouraging you to look at it another way. What you have here is a half-decent experience. In the grand scheme of things, no, it is not a great film. There are better comedies. There are certainly better action movies (this film’s hectic opening adopts the dated and migraine-inducing shaky-cam/quick-cutting harshness of Bourne – please let this trend finally die). But come at Stuber for a silly and slapstick modern take on some tried and tested tropes, and you will likely walk away at least part-way satisfied. There’s (just) enough here to keep you entertained, and that’s all its really asking.
The summer of Dave Bautista is off to a shaky start (here’s hoping My Spy lives up to its doozy of a trailer). Stuber may be so-so, but that doesn’t mean it deserves to get sidelined altogether.