Lyft Me to a Better Film – Stuber

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’re probably wondering why I bothered to see Stuber, after listing it in the July edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable.” And I’ll admit, my hopes were not high. But there are some things to consider. One, I said in that column that there was a chance I’d see it anyway, due to a lack of options and the fact that I really do like the lead actors. Two, last weekend my girlfriend said she was interested in three movies: this, Crawl, and the live-action Aladdin remake. All three were listed in a TFINYW post, and of them, this was the most palatable on its premise (though apparently Crawl is resonating with critics), and spending an afternoon at the movies with my girlfriend is an experience I relish every time I get to do it.

After seeing the film, I somewhat stand by my first impression. The movie is stupid, and it’s barely more than a 90-minute commercial for Uber (though apparently not an accurate one, as a late credits disclaimer said the film was not representative of Uber’s app mechanics – also, fuck Uber). But that said, there were occasional moments of charm and levity, and there’s a natural chemistry between Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista that elevates the cliché-heavy buddy comedy beyond irredeemable trash. It’s a stupid movie, but at times it’s a fun stupid.

Vic Manning (Bautista) is a grizzled L.A. cop who’s devoted the last few years of his career to hunting down an international drug smuggler named Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais of the Raid movies). After a failed bust results in the death of his partner (Karen Gillan), Vic is out of sorts, despondent over the loss of both the case and his eyesight. His captain (Mira Sorvino), has bumped the manhunt up to the feds, and Vic has to take time off to get laser surgery. Meanwhile, his mildly estranged daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) has an art exhibit opening that night which she expects him to attend as a means to mend their relationship.

On the other side, there’s Stu (Nanjiani), a down-on-his-luck nice guy who works at a sporting goods store by day and drives for the semi-titular ride share service at night. Stu’s boss (YouTuber Jimmy Tatro, who looks like a poor man’s Channing Tatum) is a dude-bro dick, and he yearns for the affections of his newly single friend Becca (Betty Gilpin), wanting to elevate their relationship from casual rebound sex to actual relationship. Despite working two very low paying jobs, Stu can afford to invest in Becca’s spin gym as a means to endear himself. He also bemoans the fact that he gets several one-star ratings on the app due to the idiocy of his own passengers who won’t take responsibility for themselves. This is one of the few notes that ring true in the movie. Pretty much every self-absorbed 20-something in Los Angeles is either a) willing to hold their driver’s rating hostage for special treatment, b) will blame the driver when they themselves fuck up, or c) both, plus racial slurs.

After Vic’s surgery, he is practically blind, slowly recovering his sight over the course of the film. When he gets a lead on Teijo from one of his informants, he sets out to solve the case and get revenge, sensitive eyes and daughter be damned. When he quickly crashes his car, he calls for a ride out of necessity, and Stu enters his life. What follows is Vic essentially commandeering Stu’s vehicle for the day, using him as his eyes as he investigates and interrogates (another potentially accidental truism is the insanity of jumping across all the various L.A. neighborhoods on opposite ends of the city in midday traffic), as well as plenty of confrontations about what being a “real” man actually is, with occasional peppering of Stu’s boner for Becca.

The story is full of tropes, and the twists are incredibly predictable. If you’re looking for an original plot or creative dynamics, look elsewhere, because you’ll have more luck deciphering Vic’s pocket vision test than seeing any of that here. A lot of the jokes are fairly one note and obvious as well. But every so often, there’s a gem, like a male stripper getting fat shamed for eating a sandwich, or the very Cinemasins-esque way Stu frantically questions why his electric car could catch on fire. The major fight sequences are also fairly well executed, particularly the inevitable brawl between Stu and Vic in the sporting goods store, reminiscent of Dante and Randal’s scuffle at the end of Clerks.

As bad as the film is on its face, the proceedings are saved somewhat by the chemistry Nanjiani and Bautista have with one another. What could have been left to just the visual awkwardness of their respective physiques is instead lifted up somewhat because of both actors’ comedic delivery chops, skills gained through a number of greater works over the last half decade. Their interplay is 100% believable within the context of the characters and within the known context of the players themselves. In just about any scenario, these two could face off in a throwdown for laughs and it would be at least mildly entertaining.

It’s to their credit that this movie is even tolerable. It’s still bad, but it’s not as bad as it could have been, thanks to these two leads (and the able supporting performances of Morales and Gilpin). It’s still an extremely ill-advised commercial thinly veiled in the skin of a buddy cop comedy, but thanks to the cast, you can occasionally forget that gross fact and enjoy yourself.

Also, there’s an adorable pit bull for a few minutes. Can’t go wrong with a puppy.

Grade: C+

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Should I give another TFINYW entry a second look? Have you ever been a one-star dick? Let me know!

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