Stubber ” TRIES FOR THE MAGICAL CHEMISTRY OF BUDDY COMEDY “STUBER” (Rated R)
A Film Review by Tim Riley
The familiar mismatched buddy action-comedy has often worked really well. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, as police detectives of different temperaments in “Lethal Weapon,” turned the genre into a successful franchise that spawned a television series.
Melissa McCarthy’s foul-mouthed police detective and Sandra Bullock’s methodical FBI agent were a hoot in “The Heat” when they clashed as polar opposites forced to work together in trying to capture a drug lord in Boston.
The magical chemistry of incompatible partners is the basis for “Stuber,” a comedy that conceivably has more in common with “The Odd Couple,” or better yet with “48 Hrs” when Eddie Murphy’s convict was granted a prison furlough to help Nick Nolte’s cop hunt down a killer.
For the film’s opening, LAPD detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista “Guardians of the Galaxy”) is introduced working with his partner Sara Morris (Karen Gillan) in hot pursuit of drug dealer Tedjo (Iko Uwais).
The chase results in tense, breathtaking action sequences that are seemingly inspired by the dazzling opening of a James Bond film. The tone is set for fast-moving violence, which ends up badly.
Though much time has passed, like Captain Ahab with vengeance on his mind and his hunt of the giant White Whale, Vic won’t abandon his quest to find the criminal who murdered his partner, even if he has to ignore orders of his superior, Captain McHenry (Mira Sorvino).
One day, leaving his eye doctor’s office after having Lasik surgery, Vic receives a tip on the whereabouts of the elusive Tedjo and the huge deal about to go down.
For Vic, there’s no time to waste in dealing with the brass to go after his quarry. With his eyes blurry and unable to drive, Vic acts impulsively to commandeer an Uber-driven Nissan Leaf.
Without any police backup, the middle-aged Vic, an old school alpha-male, is the kind of guy who shoots first and asks questions later. He’s a human battering ram hell-bent on confrontation and physical violence.
The risk-averse Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a chatty, mild-mannered clerk in a sporting goods store, moonlights as an Uber driver trying to make enough money to finance a spin gym business to get the girl of his dreams, Becca (Betty Gilpin).
While Becca strings along Stu without any romantic intent, Stu has to cope with the condescending attitude of Richie (Jimmy Tatro), the manager of his father’s store who overcompensates for his bundle of insecurities by nicknaming his clerk by combining his name with a well-known ridesharing app.
Obsessed with saving his five-star driver’s rating, Stu is aghast when Vic, unfamiliar with the ways of technology in general and Uber protocol in particular, jumps in the front passenger seat and demands to be driven all over Los Angeles to follow up leads.
If “The Odd Couple” had been the story of two dissimilar police officers, then Stu would be Tony Randall’s fussy, emotional Felix Ungar and Vic would be Jack Klugman’s messy Oscar Madison.
The film’s humor stems from the generational divide between Vic and Stu, two guys who couldn’t be more different. A sensitive beta-male, Stu relies on empathy and wit. He cries at the movies and TV shows. Well, he cries at just about everything.
The muscle-bound Vic thinks feeling are for women and very young kids. He could care less that Stu is eager to please his customers with all types of treats, like chocolate bars, bottled water and charging devices.
Vic just might give Stu his precious five-star seal of approval, but only if he can keep his electric vehicle running long enough to complete the chase that even has a wild shootout out with Tedjo’s thugs at a veterinarian’s office.
Besides Vic’s eye surgery happening at an inopportune time, his estranged daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales), a sculptor, has a gallery opening that same evening, an event to which she hopes her neglectful dad would attend as he promised.
Predictably enough, during a full day driving all over the county, the gabby Stu, a Millennial obsessed with social media and its impact on his professional life, and the stoic Vic, a traditional angry action hero of the past, are bound to have some of effect on each other.
Will Stu the pacifist learn to fight and stand up for himself? Will he finally realize that Becca, who says she’s breaking up with boyfriend and suggests a friends-with-benefits moment with Stu, is not worth the chase?
Will Vic mellow out, maybe just a little bit, even though most of the time he looks and acts like a guy who would rather rip off your limbs than acknowledge a brief moment of tenderness or compassion?
As the journey rolls along with some moments of humor mixed in with often extreme action sequences, “Stuber” falls back on the common plot convention that disparate characters can influence each other.
To that end, “Stuber” offers few surprises, but the volatile chemistry between the cop and the Uber driver has its flashes of fun. Yet, overall the film is a soufflé that doesn’t rise to the occasion.