Stuber (2019)

Directed by Michael Dowse

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Stuber is kind of fun, a lot of fun actually.  It’s easy to poke fun at based on the trailer and one of those titles that alludes to a pun based on a character’s name, but forget all of that, don’t even watch the trailer, just go see it.  There aren’t many studio comedies made anymore, or at least that’s the narrative I keep hearing about.  Just the fact that Stuber isn’t an adaptation or a sequel makes it somewhat noteworthy, and it does feel like a throwback to old studio comedies of the 80s, like those directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills CopMidnight Run).

It’s an odd couple story, with an over-eager, large detective with vision problems and a meek uber driver.  Of course they will bond and rub off on each other so that the detective learns to soften up, and the driver learns to take charge of his own life.

We start with the detective, Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), seeing how he loses his partner (Karen Gillan) in the pursuit of a drug lord, Tedjo (Iko Uwais).  Fastforward some months, and we meet Stu (Kumail Nanjiani).  He’s in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back, he loathes his boss, and he drives for uber.  After Vic has an operation to fix damage in his eyes sustained from the prologue, his daughter will download uber for him, and Stu will happen to be his ride.

So yeah, you know where this is going.  Various events conspire to keep them together as Vic tries to track down Tedjo and get revenge for his partner’s death.  Like with so many of these types of movies, the characters (or at least one of them) don’t want to be together, but they’re forced to worked together, then one will do something which endears them to the other, and with each building plot point they become friends until we get to the end when they are finally allowed to go their separate ways only now they decide to stick together.

The thing that fascinates me here is the film’s antagonist.  At first it seems to be Tedjo, but he is really a cover for the film’s real antagonist, a fellow detective mole who works for Tedjo.  She is only hastily established in an early scene so that when she turns out to be the villain it’s not all that surprising but it’s certainly not groundbreaking in the way character betrayals are meant to be.  She is instead, perhaps symbolic of something greater.  Or is she?

It seems like villains in these movies often have to be characters playing both sides, characters who betray you.  It’s a staple of the film noir genre, and I suppose every detective story owes a debt to the noir genre.

But Stuber is a modest action comedy about these two oddball characters.  It’s a comedy first and foremost, so the action and the justification for all that action is mostly just a series of excuses to put Bautista and Nanjiani in increasingly absurd, hilarious situations.  They go to a male strip club, there’s a shootout in a vet clinic, a petulant but violent fight in a sporting goods store and of course a car chase.  It’s all there, and that’s what this movie promises, absurd and entertaining action with a series of comic barbs.

So what’s with the betrayal at the end?  I imagine it’s just one more plot fold in a movie entirely based on plot, right?  Because every scene must unfurl that plot further, perhaps the antagonist just needed a longer leash, something else to develop to justify the movie’s runtime.  And if that’s the case the betrayal is little more than a ‘copy and paste’ from so many other detective stories.

It’s not bad by any means, it’s just… there, and I’m curious about that.  It’s like how certain things begin for a reason, they are written into the script of what turns out to be an iconic movie because they represent something, but because it works that script detail is continually recreated until it loses all meaning.  It’s just there because why not?

I suppose the betrayal does help reinforce the idea that Vic has no one to rely on save for Stu, and the reveal (to Vic) is followed quickly by Stu’s most heroic moment.  But that story beat could be conveyed in another way, and the person who betrayed Vic is underwritten to begin with.

But this is nitpicking, just the only thing I could think to write about because overall the movie is entertaining, fun and very, very silly.  It’s nice, is what it is.

Up Next: Silent Rage (1982), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

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