SXSW 2019 Review: Kumail Nanjiani is Stupendous in Stuber
Michael Dowse‘s Stuber was the final film that I saw at SXSW 2019. I even changed my flight because I didn’t want to leave SXSW without seeing Stuber. Like many after seeing The Big Sick, I became a big fan of Kumail Nanjiani and was eager to see what he did next.
Stuber is a buddy action comedy directed by Michael Dowse and written by Tripper Clancy. The film stars Dave Bautista as a cop named Vic who after his partners’ death will stop at nothing to track down the man responsible. Vic spends the next six months looking for Teijo (Iko Uwais) and finally learns his whereabouts. Unfortunately, this is on the same day that he has just gotten Lasik surgery. Luckily for Vic, he runs into an Uber driver named Stu (Kumail Nanjiani). Stu isn’t the biggest fan of Vic, but after learning that he is a cop, he ends up driving him around only out of fear that if he doesn’t, he is going to dip below a four-star rating. Comedy, action, and a whole lot of mayhem ensue…
I’m just going to say it like it is. My expectations for Stuber were high because it has been a very long time since there has been a great buddy action comedy. The last great one that I remember was The Nice Guys from 2016. Sadly, The Nice Guys didn’t do that well at the box office despite being loved by almost everyone who saw it. While I wouldn’t say that Stuber is as good as the Nice Guys, I do think it has a lot going for it and that fans of this genre will be pleased with it because it has the right amount of action and comedy.
All of the action sequences in Stuber are great, but the best one takes place inside of an animal hospital. This scene isn’t only bloody and violent, but incredibly funny at the same time. Another memorable scene is the fight scene between Vic and Stu which takes place inside of the sporting goods store where Stu works at during the day. This scene is full of physical humor and is very slapstick. In addition to these two scenes, there are several car chases and shoot outs all of which are wonderfully choreographed and a lot of fun to watch play out.
The comedy in Stuber works most of the time, and that is thanks to Kumail Nanjiani. The way that Nanjiani delivers the dialogue comes across as natural which makes it funny. I love some of the random solutions that his character Stu comes up with. In particular, there is this scene where Vic is torturing one of the drug dealers to get information out of him. While Vic resorts to violence, Stu does not. Stu decides to take the drug dealer’s phone in order to post revealing facts on his Twitter account and reads them out loud as he types them. I found this scene to be so funny because while it is stupid, it’s a joke that is relevant to today’s society as we put so much value on what others say on social media.
Casting Kumail Nanjiani to star alongside Dave Bautista in an action comedy may seem like an odd choice, but the two actors make it work. While I don’t think their chemistry was as spectacular as I expected it to be, I did love the back and forth banter between the two. Dave Bautista showed off his natural knack for comedy in Guardians of the Galaxy but in Stuber, his character Vic is a tough guy that is all about resorting to violence to solve problems. Stu and Vic are polar opposites which is why a lot of the comedy works because the way they handle things is so different. Stu is all about showing his emotions and talking things out while Vic would rather punch or shoot someone.
This leads me to one of the two issues that I had with the film. Vic and Stu as characters are a bit “too on the nose” for their good. I felt like Dave Bautista’s character didn’t grow enough. He just kept on playing the whole “I’m such a tough guy” routine. Nanjiani, on the other hand, got to embrace the material and character. You see him change because of his friendship with Vic. I guess what I am ultimately getting at is that I expected more from Bautista given how funny he is in Guardians. I felt like the script didn’t push him to his full potential.
Speaking of the script, that is the other issue I had with the film. Clancy wrote a lot of great action sequences and plenty of funny jokes, but the plot was very predictable. I understand that most action comedies tend to have a generic plot, but some of the things in Stuber were just way too obvious. For example, there are two characters, which I won’t name who because just writing their characters will give it away, but as soon as they are introduced, you know precisely how their stories are going play out in just a single scene. This may not bother everyone, but for me, it took away from the film because it wasn’t at all surprising once they’re roles were revealed.
As a fan of action comedies, I enjoyed Stuber. The action is awesome, the chemistry between Bautista and Nanjiani works well enough, and there are enough funny moments to make Stuber well worth the price of admission. Stuber pays homage to a lot of action comedies without pinpointing just one. It is like a mixture of Lethal Weapon meets Rush Hour meets Mr. Magoo. Fans of action comedies will definitely dig this and if you’re a fan of Kumail Nanjiani, this is a must-see.