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Non-Taxi Driver

Kumail Nanjiani
Kumail Nanjiani
20th Century Fox
 93 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed ByMike Dowse
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista    

Mismatched cop buddy films came into their own as an accepted film genre when Nick Nolte teamed up with Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours (alright, so Murphy wasn’t really a cop, but it was sort of a cop movie), and they’ve been going strong ever since. The only real requirement for the genre is to pair two actors with strong and conflicting personalities. Pair the right actors, and the movie is almost always passable. However, what separates the outstanding cop buddy films like 48 Hours and Midnight Run (alright, neither of them was really a cop, but it was sort of a cop movie) is a strong script with a good plot. The latest example of the genre is Stuber, with Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista as the mismatched leads. But while the film has leads who play off each other well, the lack of a good plot (and a skilled director) relegates it to mediocrity.


Stuber was written by someone named Tripper Clancy, who put more thought and wit into his nickname than into the script. Bautista plays Vic Manning, the type of macho, lone-wolf police detective you’ve only seen in a thousand earlier films. He’s after Teijo (martial arts expert Iko Uwais), the biggest drug dealer in Los Angeles who, in the movie’s opening scene, killed Vic’s partner Sara (Karen Gillan), thus providing Vic with the same motivation that you’ve seen in a thousand earlier films. Vic has one weakness, bad nearsightedness that contributed to Sara’s death. Vic eventually undergoes Lasik surgery to correct that problem, but, later that day, he gets a big tip about Teijo’s whereabouts. Since Vic can’t drive (although, in Mr. Magoo fashion, he tries), he calls Uber using the app that his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) conveniently put on his phone that day.


Enter Stu (Nanjiani), a Felix Unger sort who is obsessed with maintaining his five-star Uber driver rating and goes as far as providing candy for his passengers. Stu fancies himself a budding entrepreneur although his full-time job as a clerk in a sporting goods store leaves a lot to be desired. Naturally, Stu’s fastidiousness and the attention to safe driving rubs Vic, who is desperate to track down the lead to Teijo, the wrong way (see clip below). And, just as naturally, the case leads the two of them on an all-day, most-of-the-night trek through various less-than-scenic areas of Los Angeles.


There’s not a whole lot of top-notch police work in Stuber. Instead, Vic and Stu go to a male strip club followed by a neighborhood in Compton followed by a trip to a veterinarian’s office. That last stop of their tour leads to a shootout in which Stu throws cans of pet food at the bad guys so that Vic can shoot at them. The real reason for the entire scenario is to get the exceedingly squeamish Stu covered in blood and dog food (of course Vic gets dirty as well, but he’s not all that bothered). And, as the day goes on, Stu has numerous other occasions to get flustered and panic.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with a comedy milking one or more characters’ predominant personality traits for laughs. The problem occurs when the screenwriter has no other source of humor. So, we get endless instances of uptight Stu and bullheaded Vic acting about as you would expect. Many of the jokes about Stu went stale during the first season of the Odd Couple TV series, while those about Vic grew old about the time that Mr. Magoo was canceled.


The script isn’t the only problem with Stuber. The film has plenty of action, indeed, more fight scenes and shootouts than most dramatic cop films have. But director Michael Dowse seems to have almost no idea how to stage these action scenes either comically or dramatically. Supposedly funny bits of business go on way too long, most notably a fight between Stu and Vic when the pair go to the sporting goods store where Stu works to get equipment for their attempted drug bust. Because Vic still can’t see straight, the fight, in which the two beat the stuffing out of each other using various heavy objects, is plausibly fair, but it’s certainly not in the least bit funny. This is the type of fight that needed to be wrapped up in ten seconds rather than the five minutes or so of screen time it takes.


If the comic action scenes are bad, the serious ones fare no better. Iko Uwais, who plays the drug lord, Teijo, is a rare martial arts talent, who showcased his skills in the Raid movies. The prospect of him taking on Dave Bautista in a climactic fight to the finish was undoubtedly inviting, but the whole scene is handled so poorly that the audience sees little of what might have been an epic showdown. Similarly, most of the rest of the action ranges from mediocre to inept.


Despite its myriad problems, however, Stuber is not a total disaster because of the innate comic talents of its two stars. As Jerry Lewis once said, there are two types of funny men, those who tell funny and those who are funny. Both Nanjiani and Bautista are funny and make the most out of scenes like the one shown in the clip that allow them to react to each other. Laurel and Hardy rarely had great material to work with either, but they played off each other perfectly. Bautista and Nanjiani enjoy similar chemistry here, making a number of their encounters amusing as a result.


The dynamic between Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani reminds me of some similar comic pairings in much better movies. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run come immediately to mind, as do Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (not a cop movie but the next best thing, a road movie). The difference between Stuber and those other films is Stuber’s lack of a script that gives the stars even the slightest bit of help. The actors accomplish some near amazing results by making most of Stuber tolerable and occasionally downright funny. Unfortunately, Stuber can’t completely overcome the stupidity of its plot and direction. 

In this clip, Kumail Nanjiani first meets and clashes with Dave Bautista.

Read other reviews of Stuber: 

Stuber (2019) on IMDb