Summer movie showcase for Kumail Nanjiani's deadpan humour is entertaining enough, but very clearly improvised within an inch of its life
STUBER (Michael Dowse). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (July 12). See listing. Rating: NNN
Hollywood used to make movies like Stuber all the time. A lot of them were fun. You take an actor who looks like a convincing action hero, you pair that actor with a funny person, and you point both of them at a bad guy who poses a reasonable threat to civil society. One of our heroes is a buttoned-up nice guy the other is a rule-breaking maniac. They do not get along. Insults are thrown around. Maybe there’s a car chase. Maybe someone punches an old person. Eventually these unlikely partners learn something from one another, generally after something has exploded.
If you watched a lot of cable in the 80s and 90s you got to know these movies pretty well. 48 HRS started it (though it’s much less of a buddy comedy than people remember), and Lethal Weapon perfected the formula by making both of its leads cops. Damon Wayans was the comic relief in The Last Boy Scout a few years later he was the cop yelling at Adam Sandler in Bulletproof. Peter Weller and Sam Elliott made Shakedown, and apparently never decided which of them was the wild card and which was the straight man. Jay Leno made one called Collision Course where he was the cop rather than the comic relief that was weird.
There were many, many more. Stuber has seen all of them, but it feels especially fond of Beverly Hills Cop and Tango & Cash, and maybe Luc Besson’s European knock-off Taxi franchise as well. Violence is encouraged and overblown insults are specific and cutting, cars go very fast after other cars. Things explode, but it’s all pretty localized.
Stuber’s maniac is Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), a cop who’s just had Lasik surgery the sidekick is Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), the hapless Uber driver Vic enlists to chauffeur him around Los Angeles in pursuit of Teijo (Iko Iwais, of the Raid movies), a drug runner who killed Vic’s partner six months earlier. Their stops include such classic buddy-cop locations as a gangbanger’s crash pad, a strip club, an art gallery, The Docks and the big-box sporting-goods store where Stu works his other job. That last one is mostly so they can whip kettlebells at each other. These things happen.
As a follow-up to Nanjiani’s breakout in The Big Sick, it’s a nice showcase for the actor’s deadpan delivery and easygoing screen presence, and Bautista – whom you may remember from the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies as Drax the Destroyer – is obviously enjoying himself playing a cross between “Nick Nolte in 48 HRS” and “a Kodiak bear in people clothes who keeps bumping into things.” It’s not Shakespeare. It’s not even Shane Black. But it’s entertaining.
Very clearly improvised within an inch of its life, and held together with duct tape and kind thoughts by director Michael Dowse – who worked with Nanjiani’s The Big Sick co-star Zoe Kazan on The F Word, and who’s assembled a killer supporting cast here that includes Bautista’s Marvel pal Karen Gillan, GLOW’s Betty Gilpin, Abby’s Natalie Morales, American Vandal’s Jimmy Tatro and, somehow, Mira Sorvino – it’s unlikely to linger long in anyone’s memory, but as a summer-movie diversion it certainly scratches an itch.
Also, and not that it should matter, but it’s just nice to see a generic American action picture with a cast that’s diverse as hell. Sure, the Fast & Furious movies have made it their hallmark, but that doesn’t mean the approach can’t trickle down.