Buddy cop movies have been around for decades. From 48 Hrs. to 21 Jump Street, they provide a mixture of laughs and thrills when done properly. (Sometimes both characters are cops, other times one of them is a citizen who gets forcibly paired with a cop.) Stuber doesn't reinvent the wheel; it does, however, execute a well-worn formula successfully by putting a timely spin on the general premise of mismatched partners having an adventure.
Kumail Nanjiani plays Stu, a fastidious Uber driver whose longtime crush Becca (Betty Gilpin) has repeatedly put him in the friend zone. Dave Bautista plays Vic, an L.A. cop who has spent months tracking down Tedjo (Iko Uwais), the heroin dealer who killed his partner. His complete devotion to this case has taken a toll on the relationship with his adult daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales). On the same day that Vic has eye surgery and can't see, he gets a tip on where Tedjo will be making his next big drop. Needing a ride, he calls Uber, and who do you suppose his driver is?
From there, poor Stu is repeatedly dragged into one dangerous situation after another: shootouts, car chases, fistfights, etc. It probably goes without saying that the men initially don't like each other but grow to have respect the more they endure together.
Every buddy cop comedy lives or dies by the casting. It's vital to have two leads who can generate the right kind of chemistry to make us laugh and to get us to overlook the inevitable implausibilities of the plot. Nanjiani and Bautista have that kind of chemistry in spades. Their individual personalities are distinct, yet they mesh together in a way that is frequently hilarious. In their hands, it's enjoyable to watch the anal-retentive, uptight Stu clash with the macho, fearless Vic. The actors inject life into scenes that could have been flat because of their familiarity.
The screenplay by Tripper Clancy delivers a lot of sharp dialogue as the cop and driver bicker or try to mutually overcome hurdles. Many of the best jokes have a very contemporary feel, as they play on life in the 21st century. For example, there are numerous gags about the quirks of Uber, such as drivers worrying about their star ratings. Vic not understanding how to use cell phone apps is another running bit.
The action scenes, of which there are several, are nicely staged by director Michael Dowse. The most inventive of them, a slapstick fight between Vic and Stu in a sporting goods store, hits the sweet spot in terms of mixing comedy with violence. It's a definite high point of the film.
Stuber is admittedly predictable. The plot utilizes the oldest, most cliched “surprise” twist of buddy cop movies. I don't need to tell you what it is, because you'll see it coming far in advance. You can also tell how each character's personal arc is going to be resolved. Do you think Stu will learn to loosen up? Do you think Vic will finally find the time for Nicole? In that regard, there's nothing here you haven't seen before.
Again, the riotous interplay between Nanjiani and Bautista is so pleasurable, so ingratiating that those flaws don't matter a whole lot. To some degree, the movie knows it's formulaic anyway. Paying homage to the buddy cop formula is largely embedded in Stuber's DNA.
There have already been dozens of films just like this one. The ride-share aspect of Stuber, coupled with the creative casting, makes it a perfectly acceptable entry in the category, though. Spending ninety minutes with these guys is fun.
out of four
Stuber is rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.