By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Y’all, “Stuber” did not get good reviews at all, and it also bombed at the box office over the weekend.
Which is a terrible shame because this Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista team-up is utterly wonderful!
Nanjiani plays Stu, a retail store employee and an Uber driver (the eponymous “Stuber”) who is in love with his female best friend and business partner. Bautista plays Vic, a tough-as-nails-to-the-point-of-being-foolhardy cop who was deeply traumatized on the job and handles the trauma by just suppressing the crap out of his feelings.
In the movie’s opening, Vic gets Lasik surgery for his eyesight and then spends most of the rest of the movie legally blind. He can’t drive, which is why he calls an Uber — Stu! — and together, they spend the remainder of the movie tracking down and stopping a super bad guy, Oka Teijo, played by Indonesian actor and stunt choreographer Iko Uwais. This means that, OMG, three of the lead roles in this Hollywood action-comedy flick are inhabited by actors of Asian descent. (Bautista is half Filipino.) This is a big deal!
“Stuber” has all of the underpinnings of a late ’80s, early ’90s buddy cop comedy. Vic is the wizen curmudgeonly man’s man who can probably bench press a million pounds, who’d rather take a bullet to the gut than talk about his feelings. Stu is the fish out of water ingenue who is constantly in disbelief at the action-packed events that are happening around them, who can’t stop emoting and talking about his feelings.
There is a fond sort of nostalgia for those of us who grew up watching Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte solve crimes together. “Stuber” is really violent, for one. It’s full of car chases, fist fights, huge explosions — as well as a quick visit to a strip club. But “Stuber” is also an interesting update on the genre, kind of always self-aware as it marches its story forward.
Sometimes, it feels a little skeevy to watch the movies we loved so much when we were younger — movies made before #metoo and before we elected a racist maniac as president. I often refrain from watching my very favorite movies because I know that they haven’t aged well and that there are probably loads of problematic things in them — like casual sexual harassment in the workplace and a great tolerance for villianizing people who look like they could be from the Middle East.
“Stuber” has an awareness of this and does a few genre-subverting things. Like, Stu and Vic go to a male strip club to shake a source down for information, for instance. Rather than see the nude female body a whole bunch, we are treated to some male full-frontal nudity.
(I’m pretty sure this is how “Stuber” earned its R rating.)
Can I tell you — it was incredibly refreshing to see a penis in this type of movie instead of a bunch of boobs!
Car chases take place in Stu’s electric car! Stu has a real and honest conversation with a woman instead of just forcing his affection onto her! There are so many talking points and funny jokes around toxic masculinity and how unhealthy Stu thinks Vic’s emotional suppression is.
The chemistry between Bautista and Nanjiani crackles. It’s electric. I want them to make more movies together.
I also didn’t know that Bautista was an MMA fighter and a former pro wrestler before watching “Stuber.” I didn’t realize Uwais was a martial artist. It was a really nice surprise to watch such real-looking fight scenes between two legit professionals. I winced so many times because everything looked like it hurt!
And “Stuber” is funny! It is so funny! I pretty much laughed nonstop throughout the whole thing. The humor is this mix between slapstick, physical humor — like watching a can of dog food hit someone’s face really hard — and really dry and deadpan delivery of tragically hilarious statements made by Nanjiani — like when Stu tells Vic he’s a bad father.
“Stuber” doesn’t ever really call attention to the ethnicities of its cast members — though it does make a few nods to race. (Stu mistakes Vic for being white, for instance, and Vic corrects him and says that he’s not white.) For me, those nods are more than enough within a genre that is designed to be pretty colorblind.
My only quibble is that this genre inherently doesn’t know what to do with women, though it’s really clear “Stuber” made a lot of efforts toward trying to give women stuff to do besides be a love interest. It’s handicapped by the genre, so it’s only kindaaa successful. Female actors in this movie include Karen Gillian, Mira Sorvino, Natalie Morales, and Betty Gilpin.
For non-fans of this genre, maybe wait and rent this one. For fans of the genre and of Kumail Nanjiani’s comedic work, def see this in theaters. You’ll be glad you did because you can see an electric car burst into flames on the big screen.
“Stuber” is playing at a theater near you. Check local listings for show times.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.