REVIEW: ‘Stuber’ Offers Up a Laugh Fest at RTX 2019

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Stuber, directed by Michael Dowse and written by Tripper Clancy is a buddy-comedy that lives in the fast-paced world of absurd action and punctuated by physical humor. It stars Kumail Nanjiani as Stu and Dave Bautista as Vic as the two leads of the film. The rest of the cast are all familiar faces with Iko Uwais, Natalie Morales, and Karen Gillan making appearances in varying degrees.

Stu is a mild-mannered Uber driver who does more to live out his best friend’s dreams than his own. Stuck in a retail job, he drives to make more money on the side as he is complacent with his lot in life. He’s an Uber driver with a crappy daytime boss who just can’t seem to get the girl. However, that changes when he picks up Vic.

The polar opposite of Stu, Vic is a grizzled detective who has been through a lot including divorce, danger, and a daughter who just wants him to think about something outside of work. Vic is hot on the trail of a sadistic, bloodthirsty terrorist names Teijo (Uwais). Now, Stu finds himself thrust into a world of murder and running, he has to keep his wits about him, avoid danger, and work with Vic, all for that five-star driver rating.

While Stuber lives in the world of buddy-comedies and action, it exaggerates every trope present in them, stretching them to the place where they bounce back or break. It doesn’t work as a full parody, but its ability to be self-aware, offering exposition as comedic expression and plot hole filler works to provide a take on the genre without moving into full Hot Fuzz territory.

While a lot of the plot is luke-warm, Bautista and Nanjiani’s chemistry carries the film. At times the comedy gets away from them, but the way they play off of each other balances the interactions out and keeps you engaged. Their arguments are hilarious with a touch of real insult. The way the two purposefully work to represent different concepts of masculinity could have fallen flat, but instead, it works. Stuber uses stereotypes and builds on them, adding some lukewarm commentary on how “manning up” isn’t always for the best and that sometimes you just need a good cry. That being said, a lot of that messaging came from Nanjiani’s Q&A following my screening of the film at this year’s Rooster Teeth Expo and not the film itself. While it’s visible, the analysis came from the actor as the narrative kept any deep storytelling to a high level.

As a film, Stuber is overly comedic, with jokes filling downtime. Whether it was dark humor, psychical comedy, or cathartic monologues, the film never stops trying to be funny. While this works in its favor for the audience, proven by the eruption of constant laughter from the packed Paramount theater, it sometimes muddied the water of storytelling. This strong sense of humor was juxtaposed with graphic violence; smashed-in skulls and bullets to the brain. Stuber gets real bloody real fast and it doesn’t let up.

While some might find the large amounts of violence and blood distracting, it truthfully helps place the levity of comedy in a darker world. Just when you forget that Vic is chasing down Teijo to enact revenge because of his relationship with Stu or his daughter, you’re plunged right back into the danger. This balance of violence and comedy is stitched together with large stunts choreographed for comedy, specifically the fight scene between our leads. While I won’t go into too much detail, the choreographing of Nanjiani and Bautista helped further the laughs while also suiting their builds, temperaments, and their characters.

That being said, in the opening and closing of the film, I question Dowse’s ability to shoot fast-paced fight scenes. In the opening and closing, Uwais’ Teijo gets moments to showcase his talent as a martial artist. Having choreographed his own scenes, the camera that follows him and Bautista as they fight is shaky and unfocused. While there aren’t too many edits, a fault of many Western directors when handed fight choreography, Dowse’s hands are unsteady, unsure of how to showcase Uwais’ moves and opting to try and get everything at once which distorts the moments all together.

The shaky-cam is only present in a noticeable way during Uwais’ scenes but disappears once we enter the rest of the story. This could have been done on purpose to parody action filming techniques – as Edgar Wright has done in the past – but instead, it reads as a lack of ability in that area. While most action scenes have fighting, that style of fighting calls for directors of different specialties, and here, Dowse was out of his depth. While the violence he shot in Goon worked, here it’s just a mess and a disservice to great fighting talents like Uwais and Bautista.

However, Stu and Vic spend a lot of time in a car. They argue, they joke, they completely rip each other apart with insults, and it all works. Shooting in confined areas is not an easy feat, but every car scene works. In all honesty, when Nanjiani and Bautista are left with only each other to work within a scene, their chemistry takes off and the humor never falls flat.

Stuber is so packed with humor that it’s actually hard to pinpoint how many humorous moments fell flat. While I do recall a handful of jokes that leaned too hard into cringe territory, there was not a dull moment in the theater. The audience was in stitches from start to finish and as Nanjiani and Dowse walked out on the stage for their Q&A following the screening, the applause was ear-shattering.

Truthfully, I know some parts of the film don’t work. Stu’s boss uses edge lord jokes. And while these are meant to show how bad he is, they somehow miss some of that effect. Stu’s constant pursuit of a girl he loves but refuses to tell is unnecessary and Bautista’s “I’m an old angry man” schtick can be too much at times. But these small things are just that, they’re small. Instead, I thought of the comedy gold that was present in Stuber. I think of the epic battle between our two leads and how I couldn’t stop laughing for a second during it. And I really just think about the theater experience of loud laughter that never seemed fake.

Stuber isn’t the best comedy, but it is hilarious. It also isn’t the best action movie, but it is filled with fun explosions and kills. It’s because of this that I wholeheartedly recommend that you give it a watch.

Stuber is in theaters nationwide this Friday, July 12th.

Rating: 6/10