8/10 Stuber is so heavily composed of tropes that it would be barley intelligible outside the context of its genre, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In this case, the movie needles its strict buddy comedy confines while also giving a great cast room to shine.
In Stuber, Los Angeles detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) loses his partner Sarah Morris (Karen Gillan) in the ill-advised attempted arrest of dangerous drug trafficker Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais). Six months later, Manning gets tipped off that Teijo is about to make a major drop, but this comes a few hours after Manning has major eye surgery. Unable to drive himself downtown, he summons an Uber driven by down-on-his luck retail worker Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) and essentially kidnaps him for a last-minute investigation that takes them all across the greater Los Angeles area. Along the way, Manning forces Stu to confront his lack of integrity.
There’s typically a playful antagonism between buddy movie leads, but usually, protagonists share the same goals and/or are coming from the same place, and there’s never any doubt that they’ll come together in the end. In Stuber, that is not the case. Manning and Stu genuinely dislike each other and represent each other’s biggest narrative obstacles for most of the runtime.
The genuine friction means a lot of story beats that I’m sick to death of still hit home in this movie. It’s particularly noticeable when they split up right before the climax. The moment is still recognizable, but when it’s between two characters who have been fighting for the entire movie, it feels much more organic than usual.
Making story beats like these feel fresh is especially important because MCU movies, the eminent blockbusters of our time, are all essentially buddy movies now, and many of them follow the same structures that define Stuber, just with a $200 million coat of paint.
The movie delves into the same situations that commonly see buddy movies default to emasculation and “no-homo” nonsense, but with a remarkably wholesome bent. The obligatory LA strip club is gender-flipped, with Manning’s contact being gay and frequenting a male strip club. This is done without an ounce of shaming or homosexism. Stuber finds better paths to its humor. Stu is shamed for being unmanly, but not for being effeminate – rather, his arc toward masculinity manifests when he finally stands up for himself to both Manning and his leeching love interest, Becca (Betty Gilpin).
Stuber is a welcome, different riff on the buddy comedy genre, but that is a comedy genre, and while Stuber is a funny movie I think – Nanjiani’s shtick is a great fit for his character, and Bautista is a wonderful comic performer – but I couldn’t help but notice that I was frequently the only one laughing in a full theater.
While “can’t-miss comedy of the summer” is a bit of a stretch – it’s good, but you can definitely skip it if you want – Stuber is a solid, enjoyable movie, and it deserves your time if you can spare it.