Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Stuber

Describe This Movie In One Billy Madison Quote:

KID: You got a misshaped head.
BILLY: Thank you.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Beefy blind brute botches bust, bullies beta.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 propane tanks out of 5.

Tagline: "Prepare for the Rideshare of Your Life."

Better Tagline: "I am a passenger/And I ride and I ride"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Uber driver and retail sporting goods clerk Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) just wants to get through his day so he can return to his jilted, occasionally platonic roommate and possibly get lucky. Dogged LA cop Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) has just undergone LASIK surgery, only to find out Tedjo (Iko Uwais), the crime lord who killed his partner, is planning a big drug deal that night. Unable to drive himself, he calls an Uber and, well, you can mostly guess the rest.

"Critical" Analysis:
 Cinema has a rich history of mismatched crime-fighting characters, going back to The Thin Man movies (you can create your own random combinations here). Stuber is the latest of these, though it's as influenced by Colalteral as much as by Lethal Weapon, though it's distinctly inferior to either.

Part of the problem is the leads. This is mildly surprising, because Bautista (best known as the singularly single-minded Drax the Destroyer in the MCU) has shown some appreciable range, offering nuanced performances in Blade Runner: 2049 and Hotel Artemis. While Nanjiani's affable dweeb is pretty much exactly what you expect.

But for whatever reason, the two never really click. Bautista is going through the motions (granted, said motions involve a lot of body trauma), and Nanjiani gives us a more neurotic version of his autobiographical character in The Big Sick, though thankfully not as over-the-top as the loathsome "Pawny" in MIB: International.

Man, remember MIB: International? Yeah, neither does anybody else.

Director Michael Dowse helmed Goon, one of the best movies of 2011. With Stuber, he's clearly trying to recall that film's combination of comedy and brutality. Unfortunately, he doesn't have Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg writing the screenplay this time around. Instead, it's someone by the name of Tripper Clancy whose sole previous feature credit is a German heist caper. The results are ... well, not Goon.

Stuber's biggest issue is it can't decide what it wants. It's *mostly* a comedy, with Nanjiani riffing off Bautista's straightest of straight men. But instead of going down a well-worn yet comfortable route of stylized violence broken up with quips, the whole thing is shot through with a riff on modern manhood, culminating in a fight between the manly Vic and the wimpy Stu at the latter's sporting goods store.

This literal alpha vs beta male thread running throughout is artlessly handled and obvious. As a buddy comedy, it'd be acceptable, but only barely. Dowse has a weird non-sequitur approach to humor, in which he seems to think shots of a bewildered dog in a cone or a random swinging dick are funny simply because they exist. But as a statement on modern manhood, which he and Clancy are also shooting for, it's pointless.

By the way, welcome back, Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino. Pity your return to the big screen is in one of Stuber's many sideline female roles, including Karen Gillan (!) as Vic's doomed partner, Natalie Morales (as Vic's long-suffering daughter), and Betty Gilpin.

As failures of imagination go, Stuber isn't a colossal one. It has some genuinely funny lines (Simon Birch!) and Bautista and Nanjiani eventually fall into rhythm. But it's too schizophrenic to get past its other flaws. And Vic's near-constant blindness shtick gets old fast.

Stuber is in theaters today. Go see Crawl instead.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar