One guy is usually a big, well-armed, intimidating presence with old-school values. He ain’t messing around.
The other guy is typically much smaller and much funnier and kind of goofy — and he’s driving the other guy nuts, even as circumstances force them to partner up and take on some very, very bad people.
Hollywood has relied on variations of this formula for decades, from “48 Hrs.” to “Midnight Run” to “Rush Hour” to “Men in Black” to “Ride Along” to “Central Intelligence” to “The Heat” to this week’s “Stuber” — which is by no means a classic of the genre, but packs more than enough R-rated action and comedy to land well above the middle of the pack.
Much of the credit goes to the inspired pairing of Kumail Nanjiani (the HBO series “Silicon Valley,” the brilliant feature dramedy “The Big Sick”) and Dave Bautista (best known for playing Drax the Destroyer in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies), who play to type but also step outside their respective comfort zones.
We know Nanjiani can execute deft, deadpan and droll. We know Bautista can bust up a room or a house or even a city block all by himself. “Stuber” certainly goes to those strengths — but it also gives Nanjiani the opportunity to go ballistic, and Bautista the chance to showcase his legit comedic abilities.
Although “Stuber” is set in the present day, director Michael Dowse infuses the film with a decidedly retro, 1980s/1990s buddy-cop vibe — establishing the bone-cracking tone with the opening scene, a drug raid gone wrong that leads to a violent shoot-out AND a breakneck chase sequence reminiscent of a “Lethal Weapon” movie.
The main story takes place six months after that fateful raid, with Bautista’s Vic, a grizzled, brooding, closed-off man-mountain of an LAPD detective, obsessed with tracking down the notorious Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais, the great Indonesian martial artist/actor), who killed his partner and is still at large.
Vic is not having a good day. In typical thoughtless and selfish fashion, he has scheduled much-needed Lasik surgery on the same day his sculptor daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) has her first big art gallery opening. Complicating matters: While Vic is fumbling about the gallery, unable to see his own hand in front of his face, he gets a call from his new partner (Amin Joseph) that could lead him straight to the evil Teijo. Sorry Nicole, gotta go!
Oh, but Vic can’t see well enough to drive, and he’s not sure who he can trust on the force — so he summons an Uber, and who should arrive but the mild-mannered, Prius-driving Stu (Nanjiani), aka Stuber because his name his Stu and he drives an Uber, get it?
Yeah, I might have gone with a different title for the movie too.
Thanks to this not-exactly-subtle conceit, Vic and Stu are so closely paired for the rest of the movie, they might as well have been handcuffed to one another. For the remainder of the story, Vic commands Stu to take him from one place to another — and they get mixed up in all sorts of dangerous predicaments in between bickering with one another and pointing out each other’s failings.
Vic says Stu’s a coward and a pushover who doesn’t have the courage to tell his best friend (Betty Gilpin) he’s actually in love with her. Stu points out Vic is a massive bundle of pent-up hostility and closed-off emotions who has no idea how to connect with his daughter. They’re both right — and the simmering tensions between the two eventually reach the boiling point, resulting in one of the more ridiculous and hilarious extended fight sequences in recent memory.
Nanjiani and Bautista are terrific together, but “Stuber” also benefits from a quartet of wonderful actresses who are all effective despite limited screen time.
Bautista’s “Guardians” colleague Karen Gillan plays Vic’s first partner, who is smarter, tougher and a better cop than Vic; Mira Sorvino is typically excellent as Vic’s supervisor; Natalie Morales, who should be a star, is Vic’s daughter, and Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”) scores some laughs despite an underwritten role as Stu’s friend-zone crush.
“Stuber” is kind of dumb and a little bit clunky, but Nanjiani and Bautista click, the action sequences are well-filmed and sometimes brutally funny, and we’re happy to be along for this summertime escapist ride.