Stuber is not a good movie. I don’t think I’ll ever revisit it. There are no memorable dialog exchanges, action sequences, or comedic bits. And yet, I’m loath to say that I had a bad time; the film competently tells an adequate story. While that isn’t a rousing endorsement of the movie, I’m also not actively dissuading audiences from watching this feature. Stuber is aggressively mediocre, but that doesn’t make it bad necessarily.
In Stuber, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is a non-threatening beta male who works retail and drives for Uber. His ordinary and routine life is derailed when he picks up Vic (Dave Bautista), an alpha male police officer who is hot on the trail of a murderer and drug supplier named Tedjo (Iko Uwais). Vic is recovering from eye surgery and needs Stu to drive him from location to location, following leads, busting heads, and getting one step closer to nabbing the man that killed Vic’s partner years ago.
Reviewing a movie is more art than science, but there’s still a little science. Part of that science involves meeting expectations, and Stuber met my very low expectations. Give me characters with identifiable goals and show them working toward those goals over three acts, and a film is well on its way to avoiding being considered a “bad movie” by me. That isn’t everything of course, but getting the basics right goes a long way. Maybe that’s negative commentary about me as a reviewer. Or perhaps being a reviewer has exposed me to too many bad movies.
From the trailer, I gathered the concept was a mashup of fish-out-of-water and buddy-cop stories. It would be something akin to The Man (2005), starring Eugene Levy and Samuel L. Jackson. Or maybe I’m just reminded of that movie because Kumail Nanjiani and Levy have similar eyebrows. But we can look farther back to The Last Boy Scout (1991) for another similar story. I’m sure there are several more examples, but my point is that I knew what to expect, and Stuber met those expectations.
Even though the movie isn’t good, that doesn’t mean it’s without its charms. There are moments of earnestness between characters that delighted me in spite of myself. Some exchanges managed to surprise me, rising above the rest of the bland dialog to the point that those scenes seemed like they were lifted from a better script that was never optioned. Finally, Bautista and Nanjiani have enough chemistry to get through the film, if just barely.
The biggest problem for the film is that its humor is one note, and that’s unfortunate for a movie that’s supposed to be a comedy. The majority of the humor comes from Nanjiani and his inappropriate dialog. Throughout the entire film, he’s delivering running commentary on events happening on screen or he’s speaking aloud thoughts that people normally keep to themselves. It’s the kind of self-aware comedy where characters seem to know that they’re a character and that there’s an audience watching them. As such, much of the fish-out-of-water humor is blunted because the fish is aware he’s a fish and can cope with being out of water by making wry observations.
I can’t escape the idea that Stuber met my expectations and therefore can’t be labeled a bad film. If I go to Taco Bell expecting Taco Bell and receive Taco Bell, then can I say I was disappointed? I knew what I was getting going into the movie. The worst thing I can say is that Stuber had opportunities for excellence, and the filmmakers chose not to capitalize on them. That’s disappointing, but that’s also not what this film was offering. I can’t fault Stuber for not giving me what isn’t available.
I also have a foreboding feeling that this standard I’m setting is going to haunt me in future reviews when I contradict what I’m writing here. Oh well.