Buddy comedies used to be a regular thing. It was a staple of cinema throughout the 20th century spawned from such classic duos as Laurel and Hardy and Dean and Lewis. It’s such a beautifully simple cinematic formula: Take two very different people, pair them together, and force them to tolerate one another while dealing with a rapidly escalating scenario. There are some great buddy comedies, like “48 Hours,” “Midnight Run,” “Blues Brothers,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Stir Crazy,” “Tommy Boy” and “Friday,” just to name a few.
The buddy comedy isn’t exactly in its heyday—not when super expensive over-the-top blockbusters are crowding out anything that isn’t a remake, reboot or existing franchise. Every so often you get something like “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy or “The Nice Guys” with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crow. But they feel like nostalgic throwbacks to an era of filmmaking that no longer exists. Even Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” which seems to lean into buddy-comedy tropes, feels like an homage to the medium. Does the good, old-fashioned, non-ironic buddy comedy have any chance at survival in show business?
If “Stuber” is any indication, the answer is “no.” In fact, the movie feels like a very good argument for why this formula went stale. Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is an Uber driver, desperate to create a life for himself. His life is a kind of Sisyphisian hell, where he’s forced to deal with terrible people all day, working for the popular ride-sharing service while pining for the dream girl he’s been in love with since college. Things are already going pretty bad when he meets Vic (Dave Bautista), an obsessed cop working a case for the LAPD.
After getting corrective eye surgery, Vic gets a tip on the location of the guy who murdered his partner. Unable to drive, he calls an Uber and gets Stu to drive him from one potential deadly situation to the next. Stu wants to get the hell out, but due to his plummeting rating on the Uber app, he needs that five-star review. That last sentence makes my brain hurt. Typing it was a chore. So we have movie where the main character puts his life in jeopardy because he’s worried about a rating on an app. This is either a very subtle jab at the state of our service-based economy or some absolutely lazy writing.
I’m sure on paper the concept of an Uber driver having to chauffeur a cop around town seemed amusing. But the attempted reality feels so forced, I could practically see the shoehorn being wedged into every scene.
I’ll give a lot of credit to the leads who work really hard to try and make this movie work. Nanjiani is such s a likable guy that many scenes are salvaged just because he’s on the screen. Dave Bautista, best known for playing Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” seems less believable as an actual human than he does an alien assassin. He seems unnaturally huge for the role and sticks out like a sore thumb in every scene. It’s not that Bautista is unlikable, I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief that I was watching an actual human being. It reminded me of most films in the 1980s featuring Dolph Lundgren. There’s something naturally unnatural about their screen presence and nothing about what they do feels authentic.
There’s a few good laughs in the movie, but the plot is so dreadfully thin and there isn’t a scene in the movie that feels like an organic story being told. It is an old-school deep-dive into a cliché-filled pool. Every scene is telegraphed, every moment feels forced.
The only positives come from a cast trying to entertain in spite of the entire enterprise burning around them—like two performers who continue their routine even through the proscenium burning and collapsing into the audience. I admire their commitment but I’m afraid I have to exit the theater before it all comes down. This is one ride you don’t want to take.