Stuber and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Michael Dowse
I don’t know about you, but if there’s ONE thing I’ve always wanted to see in a movie, its endless product placement for a company trying to corner the market on an industry through sheer financial force of will! Then again, I probably shouldn’t be sitting TOO pretty on my high horse considering I still review Disney films despite their vicious takeover of 20th Century Fox (coincidentally the studio who made this film), so I guess I’ll just have to judge this movie on its own merits instead of how blatantly EVIL it’s marketing is. Anyway! Does this Buddy Comedy manage to be the best of both their lead actors’ filmographies, or are you much better off watching Hotel Artemis and The Big Sick instead? Let’s find out!!
Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is your average millennial stuck trying to make it in the gig economy and failing to earn the affections of his BFF (Betty Gilpin) who he’s been secretly in love with but decided to invest in her startup company instead of just telling her he likes her. We’ve all been there, am I right!? Well investing in other people’s ideas isn’t cheap, so along with his day job at a sporting goods store he drives with Uber (DOWNLOAD NOW FOR YOUR MOBILE DEVICES!!) and does his very best to be as accommodating as possible. This is 2019 though, and apparently being a massive jerk is in vogue now so despite his best efforts he’s barely hanging onto his current user score which is dangerously close to getting him kicked off the service entirely. Enough about that guy though! This is a movie with a famous wrestler, so let’s talk about that famous wrestler! Vic (Dave Bautista) is a cop who is obsessed with finding this drug trafficker named Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais) who he nearly caught a while back but managed to escape and also killed his partner in the process. After six months though, there hasn’t been a break in the case and so he takes a bit of time off to try and reconnect with his daughter (Natalie Morales ) and finally get that laser eye surgery he’s been meaning to get. He’s at home and waiting for his vision to return as well as running out the clock until the start of his daughter’s art show when he gets a call from one of his informants telling him that Teijo is gonna be at this big drug deal later tonight at some undisclosed location in town. Seeing his chance but not seeing much else, Vic is determined to take Teijo down once and for all… but he needs a ride. I THINK YOU SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING!! Can Stu provide wonderful ride sharing service to the antsy and determined Vic and maintain his unobtrusive existence with a slightly higher star rating? Can Vic solve this case without his vision, and can he convince Stu to help him beyond his duty of just getting him from one place to another? Seriously, does this dude not have even ONE cop friend or a super tough bro he could have called instead!?
I have something of a soft spot for crappy Buddy Comedies which you probably could have inferred from my positive review of Central Intelligence, and like that movie I found just enough to enjoy about this to give it a thumbs up. It’s poorly structured, the script is filled with contrivances, and whoever wrote this seems to only know about cop films by reputation rather than first-hand experience, and yet the one thing it gets right is by far the most important thing to get right in a movie like this; namely the buddies themselves. Dave Buatista and Kumail Nanjiani give some rather strong performances that, when the script allows them, are very funny and at least a little bit heartfelt! There’s a decent story about relationships and toxic masculinity being performed by very talented actors, but it’s all buried under a mountain of bad crime drama nonsense and Uber product place. At least for me, the good stuff was JUST good enough to balance out the really bad stuff which I wouldn’t exactly call a ringing endorsement (especially with the gaudy Uber advertisements all over it) but since Booksmart is out of theaters it’s not like you have a better Buddy Comedy to see right now, right?
The big problem here is the slapdash buffoonery that can be charitably called a script as it seems to have been written in pieces rather than as one clearly laid out narrative. I guess this isn’t uncommon for comedies, especially for road movies which this movie KIND of is in a way, but the issue is that this isn’t simply two guys going from place to place and experiencing wacky adventures; there’s a crime story taking place that is played a bit too straight and takes up too much of the run time to just be dismissed as a clothesline to hang the comedy on. There is almost no reason the events of this movie happen the way they do as there is always a dozen better choices for every decision the characters make, and no; Dave Bautista is not supposed to be incompetent in this movie. Kumail Nanjiani at ANY point could have just left Dave Bautista behind with the only thing keeping him on board being the risk of a one star review. Dude, if this is LITERALLY the review that will get you kicked off the service (I highly doubt it) then switch to Lyft or something because it isn’t worth dying for and is not a motivation that I can get behind. Bautista is somehow worse because once again he apparently doesn’t have a SINGLE friend on the force or otherwise who can give him a ride, and he somehow thinks that Kumail Nanjiani can help him with this case more than any other Uber driver which again is something I could not get behind. It reminds me a bit of Due Date which is a Buddy Comedy that VERY firmly gets a thumbs down from me and has a similar issue with its characters choices. Admittedly Due Date is somehow worse about this, but the principal of characters making choices not for their own sake or to reveal their own flaws but to keep the plot moving forward, is very much in play here.
And even beyond the contrivance that keeps these two together for the whole movie, it’s ultimately in service a really basic and uninspired cop film. A good cop movie needs a darn good bad guy to keep the plot going and the characters motivated, yet this one can’t seem to be bothered to do THAT much. The villain is just an uninspired and generic kung-fu gangster that reminded me a lot of Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4 with about as much dialogue. He’s out of the picture for so long there ends up being no real sense of cat and mouse between him and Bautista. Heck, they can’t even get henchmen right in this movie as we only get like five dudes in ONE SCENE and then a chase at the end which is okay I guess, but it’s too little too late in a movie that didn’t have much going for it as far as action and thrills. The evil plan itself and the subsequent twists and turns that it takes is also utterly lacking as the late in the movie reveal is utterly muted by the film’s complete inability to follow up on it in any significant way, and it seems that had this ACTUALLY gone off without a hitch that it still wouldn’t have worked out in the end considering how convoluted the scheme truly was. Probably my favorite bad cop movie trope in this movie is the fact that every single one of the bad guys who holds a gun in this movie never takes a shot at our heroes when given the opportunity. A good action movie will try to convince the audience that our characters are in danger even if they know the bad guys are gonna miss, but they couldn’t even get that much right as the bad guys just stand around gormlessly like wrestlers waiting for a cue that their opponent missed. Speaking of wrestling, let me go on a tangent here to try and explain what I mean as well as conveniently pad out the word count. Have you ever heard of a REVERSE Battle Royale? Probably not, but to put it simply the idea is that a bunch of wrestlers just outside of the ring have to race to get into instead of what a typical Royal Rumble is which is all the wrestlers inside the ring trying to throw everyone else out. If you can’t see the flaw with this match type (clearly the creator of it couldn’t either), the fact is that getting into a ring is VERY easy to do; especially when you’re standing just outside of it. Because no one thought of a better way to handle such a ridiculous situation, the wrestlers have just stand there; throwing punches at each other or just doing ABSOLUTELY nothing because there’s just no way to make this seem real in the least, and that’s what happens in this movie. You know it looks silly, the ACTORS know it looks silly judging by the looks on their faces, and yet there’s nothing they can do to salvage the utter nonsense they’re being asked to act out.
So with all that working against the movie, why don’t I hate it? Are the characters and jokes REALLY so good as to compensate for all that this movie gets wrong? Well I can’t speak for everyone as I get the feeling that even my lukewarm to mildly positive reaction to this movie will be in the minority, but I have to say that it kind of does! If you take any individual scene of this movie and played it in isolation, you’ll probably get a laugh or two because both guys are SOMEHOW giving really solid and witty performances for a movie that simply didn’t deserve them. And yet… there they are! Bautista’s over the top stoicism butting up against Nanjiani’s half-baked wokeness makes for a compelling dynamic as both start to begrudgingly respect what the other has to offer and realize the flaws in themselves throughout this journey. Now it doesn’t work all the way through. They HAVE to participate in the actual plot so the contrivances listed above do a sizable disservice to the rest of their characterization and interesting arcs. In particular, the film bizarrely has Nanjiani have his Hero’s Journey revelation three separate times in this movie just to add a very minor crisis into scenes that really didn’t need it and it undercuts the growth that this character is supposed to have. He’s got a really great scene where he takes responsibility for his feelings about his friend and is honest with her about it which feels pretty refreshing and heartfelt for a genre that usually doesn’t deal with complex relationships or even fully realized character arcs, yet it’s also in the same movie where he decides he can’t do something, decides to do it, and then has to decide to do it twice more. Bautista doesn’t have as much to do with his arc but it kind of serves him well in that the lousy script doesn’t have to work as hard around his character’s growth the same way it does for Nanjiani, and his performance alone picks up the slack as he is brimming with personality and charisma. I’d love to see these two work together again with a similar dynamic; I just hope that the next time they do it’s with an actual script and not this total facsimile of one.
I did end up coming out more positive than negative about this, but I can see why other people won’t like it. I probably still wouldn’t recommend seeing it in a theater even with my recommendation because it really does work better on a scene to scene basis and having to sit and stare at it for its full run time in a dark theater without any distractions, well it becomes that much clearer how under cooked so much of it is that the good moments have to try mightily to compensate for. Don’t worry, Bautista! Sure, this isn’t the highlight of your career, but The Rock had to do The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain, and The Tooth Fairy before he became the most popular person on the planet! As long as you don’t do Tooth Fairy 3 or something where you’re anachronistically matched up with a little girl, you should be fine! Oh wait, he already did that latter which was supposed to come out this year but got pushed to 2020? Well at least I won’t have to deal with that one for a while…