Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Derek May:
Sometimes you just want to shut off your brain for 90 minutes and immerse yourself in ass-kickery and belly laughs. In modern times, that type of film has become more and more rare, as the elusive formula that made movies like Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Midnight Run, and even Hot Fuzz and Rush Hour, such enduring classics has remained hidden from most filmmakers. So what makes one work and another fall flat on its ass? I think a big part of it is respect for both components—the action and the comedy—meaning that they need to complement each other and not allow one to overwhelm the other.
With the release of Stuber, both writer Tripper Clancy and director Michael Dowse seem to home in on this concept with a modern take and a nostalgic sensibility. Dowse, known for raunchy fare such as Hulu’s Future Man and the 80’s throwback Take Me Home Tonight, has the pedigree to pull it off. Because aside from holding its own as a solid entry in the action-comedy pantheon, Stuber is also a loving homage to some of the great tropes of the genre. Along with a number of general callbacks, I counted homages to movies such as Commando, Terminator, and every John Woo film. It all demonstrates the loving care the creators have taken to make a funny and exhilarating adventure for contemporary audiences and aficionados alike.
The basic premise of the film is classic odd-couple friction, as hard-ass detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) is forced to enlist mind-mannered pushover Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) in taking down Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais), the notorious gangland criminal who killed his partner. Classic! But there’s a nice bit of role reversal as Manning finds himself in an unusual and frustrating position of vulnerability after having morning LASIK surgery and subsequently being unable to see, much less drive. And so, desperate to keep his rating up, Uber driver Stu initially sets aside his innate anxiety to tag along on the adventure; and the deeper his involvement gets, the more it challenges him to rise up with untapped courage, confidence, and self-respect. The mismatched pair is naturally perfect for each other’s needs, and while that’s certainly obvious to the audience, it never feels so heavy handed that is detracts from enjoying the hilarious—and deadly—shenanigans.