The buddy cop comedy will never die
Eliciting gut busting laughter through all three acts, as well as glorious R-rated gore and action, Stuber is everything you could possibly dream of from a modern action-comedy.
Kumail Nanjiani is one of the most exciting names in comedy cinema right now, with a host of ensemble parts under his belt and the mega-hit The Big Sick launching him into leading man status last year. Pairing him with similarly rising star Dave Bautista, who rose to prominence as a WWE wrestler but who has parlayed that career into a robust acting resume displaying comedic chops in Guardians Of The Galaxy and dramatic range in Blade Runner 2049 (as well as some starring roles like Bushwick and Final Score)… turns out to have been a stroke of genius.
The buddy cop action-comedy formula is one of my very favorite in all of cinema history. The go-to modern example of the subgenre would be the Lethal Weapon films, which milked the dynamite chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover all the way to four highly successful films. Countless iterations of the formula have come and gone, with PG-13 and R-rated versions, with every kind of oddball pairing of leads one can imagine. There have been female-driven offerings like The Heat or The Spy Who Dumped Me, stuff that skewed more in the detective comedy direction like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Nice Guys. Examples are endless. But the formula hasn’t gone wide-release with as much 1980s action cinema influence as Stuber brings in quite some time. And the result is cinematic heaven for this action-obsessed viewer.
Finding actual laughs, repeatedly, from a situation as silly and potentially disastrous as “temporarily blinded meathead detective forces Pakistani Uber driver to solve a case with him” is somewhat of a miracle, I must admit. But virtually everything in this briskly paced 93 minute film fires on all cylinders. Director Michael Dowse has pulled off the miraculous before in Goon, a hockey comedy with so much heart and soul as to be one of the greatest hockey movies ever made. I’m unfamiliar with the brief body of work writer Tripper Clancy has put out thus far, but he’ll be on my radar now. The supporting cast in Stuber includes Mira Sorvino (!) as Bautista’s police chief, GLOW’s Betty Gilpin as Kumail’s best friend and unrequited love, The Raid’s Iko Uwais as a blonde bad guy, Jimmy Tatro (hilarious in American Vandal) as Kumail’s douchey manager, and Natalie Morales as Bautista’s daughter. There’s varying levels of opportunity for these supporting players to shine. The film’s under-utilization of Iko Uwais is perhaps its greatest sin, with a shakey cam opening fight and a neat little trick of hopping down some balconies being the only real times Uwais gets to do his thing. Sorvino is always fantastic and it’s great to see her emerging out from under the blacklisting that Harvey Weinstein apparently imposed upon her. Betty Gilpin and Jimmy Tatro probably get the best opportunities to flesh out Kumail’s Stu with several funny scenes throughout.
But this is Nanjiani and Bautista’s show, and they’re frankly fantastic together. Bautista’s Vic is every muscle-bound 1980s cop you’ve ever seen in an action movie before, only that trope is being subverted left and right by Stu and by Morales’ Nicole. It is my contention that Dave Bautista has now surpassed The Rock as the greatest acting talent to ever emerge from the WWE and it’s precisely because of his willingness to subvert expectations, be the butt of the joke, or go R-rated where the squeaky-clean Rock rarely dares go. It’s marvelous that the character growth shown in Stuber involves Vic embracing the advice of his puny new friend Stu and his artist daughter rather than Vic’s roughshod alpha male bending everyone else to his style and way of life. Stu gets some growth too as he grows in confidence throughout his hilarious life-or-death ordeal. I loved that Stu just kept trying to leave because a normal man taken hostage by his Uber passenger would do that, but the writing kept this odd couple together rather believably.
With one-liner after zinger after barbed insult landing with a much higher than average rate, Stuber is full-on hilarious. Bolstered by the fantastic chemistry between the leads, an overall fun ensemble, and some occasionally shockingly R-rated action gore, this buddy-action-comedy is good enough to breathe a little life back into the entire subgenre and I hope it lights up the box office as a result.
And I’m Out.