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The buddy cop comedy is a tried and true formula that has delivered some great movies in the past. We've seen action-heavy odd couples, like the first couple Lethal Weapon movies, and more comedy focused pairings, like... the last couple Lethal Weapon movies. The newest buddy cop duo to try and join the elite fraternity brings the hulking Dave Bautista together with the significantly less hulking Kumail Najiani in Michael Dowse's Stuber.
Vic (Dave Bautista) is a Los Angeles narcotics cop. He's big and tough, but he also has a major impediment to his job: he's basically blind. When an arrest goes wrong after Vic loses his glasses in a fight, he finds himself without a partner and with a score to settle against a dangerous drug dealer, Teijo (Iko Uwais). He decides to go the lasik surgery route to fix his eyes, but on the same day he does he also gets word of a major drug deal going down that might be his last chance to catch his archenemy.
With no other option, Vic calls an Uber to be his wheels, and the hapless Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) answers the request. Stu finds himself drafted into the hunt for the bad guys, all in hopes of earning a coveted five star rating so that he doesn't lose his second job.
Because the premise is so silly, you might expect Stuber to be mostly comedy with a bit of token action thrown in to keep things interesting. Instead, Stuber weirdly feels much more like gritty cop drama, especially as it gets going. It's a bit slow to start and find its footing, but once it does the two halves of the whole begin to fit together a bit better to create what can be called an enjoyable movie.
Worthy of note is that not only is the action intense, it is also surprisingly bloody. That's not a criticism in and of itself, as fans of that kind of material will be satiated. But it's also a bit jarring to shift from a comedy sequence where a drug dealer is being blackmailed with Twitter posts about loving Ryan Gosling, to an action sequence where headshots result in massive wounds and blood splattering the walls. While Stuber's language guaranteed it an R-rating anyway, the movie decides to take that freedom and run with it.
When it is going strictly for laughs, Stuber is quite fun. Kumail Nanjiani's familiar joke delivery works well for a man who has found himself in a situation that is getting more bizarre and out of control by the minute. Nanjiani and Bautista have solid chemistry together, and have an impressive repartee. It's not a surprise that Bautista is a capable comedian, but this role is far from Guardians of the Galaxy's Drax. Here he's leading the charge, not part of an ensemble, and shows that he has no problem leading both the action and the comedy. Together, Bautista's physical comedy and Nanjianji's one-liners meld together quite well.
And it's a good thing that the two leads carry the film, because there isn't a whole lot else here to surprise you. The story is pretty run of the mill. While the idea of pairing the tough-as-nails cop with an Uber driver might be a modern conceit, Nanjiani could just as easily be playing the more cliched rookie-cop-who-only does-things-by-the-book alongside Dave Bautista's loose cannon veteran, and things would play out more or less the exact same way.
However, if that were the pairing in this film, then the cliche plot would be about the veteran cop teaching the rookie the realities of the street, and this is the one place where Stuber does set itself apart. Here, the Uber driver has a thing or two to teach the grizzled cop, and there are some pretty funny results.
Buddy comedies are all about the humorous differences between the lead characters, and the biggest different between Stu and Vic is their respective views on what it means to be a man. Vic has very traditional views of masculinity, while Stu is much more in touch with his feelings. While the phrase "toxic masculinity" is never spoken, the message is clear. Maybe the cop on a quest for justice at the exclusion of all else isn't the obvious hero. Maybe he's a guy who needs help.
Stuber tries to celebrate the buddy action-comedy while also recognizing the flaws that the genre traditionally has. That's a difficult needle to thread, and the movie doesn't always succeed in its goals. Still, dyed-in-the-wool fans of the genre will likely find everything they're looking for in Stuber.