“I want to thank Warner Bros. for casting me in this piece-of-shit, god-awful movie”
– Halle Berry, accepting Worst Actress for Catwoman at the 2005 Razzie Awards
You’ve seen Stuber before, whether you know it or not. It’s the sort of movie that’s always offered to a comedian whose star is on the rise. Some studio digs a shitty action flick – it’s usually an action flick – from the bottom of the bin, passes it to the comedian’s agent, and the comedian, foregoing any and all good judgement, jumps at the opportunity to headline a major studio flick.
It rarely ever turns out well. For every 48 Hrs. and Die Hard, there are countless Collision Courses, Corky Romanos, and Taxis. Not the show Taxi, the shitty movie with Jimmy Fallon. Look, I didn’t say all the comedians were actually funny, okay?
Kumail Nanjiani is a funny guy. Not only that, but he’s already proven he can carry a movie pretty well. You drop him in a flick with other talented folks – Dave Bautista, Betty Gilpin, Iko Uwais, and friggin’ Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino – then only good can come of it, right? Not in this piece of shit.
Stuber is the sort of dumpster fire that seems intent on ruining the lives of everyone in its gravitational pull. Every single talented person is wasted. Karen Gillan (Bautista’s co-star in the Guardians of the Galaxy films) shows up just to get the Women-in-Refrigerators treatment, Mira Sorvino has maybe four minutes of screen time, and Iko Uwais is stuck in some of the worst-shot and -choreographed fight scenes ever captured on film, which is saying something.
Not that our two leads fare any better (no pun intended). The movie begins with bespectacled cop Vic Manning (Bautista) and partner-whose-name-I-forget (Gillan) arriving calmly to a soon that will inevitably turn into a shootout so that Gillan can be killed. Oh, also Manning loses his prescription lenses. This is as important to the plot as it is absolutely stupid because it means that a post-Lasik Manning has to spend the rest of the movie squinting like Mr. Magoo as he bumps his head on things. Hilarious.
He then hails the services of Uber driver Stu (Nanjiani). Stu is a spineless turd of a man who takes verbal abuse from his sporting goods store manager and is friend-zoned (yes, this is the sort of shitty movie that believes in the “friend zone”) by BFF Becca (Betty Gilpin). After nearly being crashed into by Manning, Stu is coincidentally then hailed by him on the app. This results in Stu escorting Vic around LA crime scenes like a failed comedic remake of Collateral, a film that failed on its own.
The problems with Stuber are abundant, but one stands out more than others: this movie doesn’t think highly of women. At all. The rivalry between Vic and Stu (other than the fact that Vic abuses his authority to kidnap Stu) is based around debates on what it is to “be a man” – Vic being a walking “tough guy” cliché and Stu being a snowflake. As shallow as that is, it’s more depth than any of the women receive. In addition to the “fridge-ing” and “friend zone-ing” bullshit, there’s are running themes of how women need to be rescued or just can’t be trusted. It doesn’t take long to find out whom the big boss is, as it’s probably the only reason they got an actress of her stature. Additionally, Vic’s adult-daughter-whose-name-I’ve-also-forgotten (Natalie Morales) is given Vic’s gun at a key moment, only for her to prove absolutely useless with said gun during the climax. Also, Vic’s daughter is a sculptor and Stu has to drive Vic to her big art opening because why not do all the clichés whilst we’re at it?
Oh, but the shitty women characters are (occasionally) forgotten about during the shitty action scenes. This is beyond “bad shaky-cam”, this is trying-to-take-a-selfie-during-break-dance-lessons bad. Plus, there are cuts every ¼ of a second to angles completely opposite of the previous shot, so you can hardly tell what’s going on or who’s responsible at any given moment. Iko Uwais, playing Manning nemesis Teijo, is the star of The Raid: Redemption, one of the greatest martial arts films of all time. That fantastic film also employed quick camera moves and cuts, but the cuts were only used to maximize the impact, and the camera was always in a position to clearly make out what was happening.
In all fairness, there’s one moment in Stuber that I found genuinely funny. When Vic’s daughter installs the Uber app on Vic’s phone, she scrolls through said phone to find an avatar for him. In doing so, all she can find are grisly crime scene photos. It’s a quick bit of gallows humor that made me laugh harder than anything else in this wasted opportunity of a movie.
And that may be the most frustrating thing: how much great material is wasted. In addition to wasting talented performers, the movie casts two PoC in the leads to clumsily side-step any mention of racism as Vic goes on a Stu-chauffeured rampage against PoC (and a handful of White guys) all over Los Angeles. And all jabs at Uber – one of the most evil companies in the world today – are limited to toothless sight-gags about annoying riders (with Uber stealing the cab industry’s business, they might as well steal their jokes).
But Stuber has no interest in being insightful. Hell, it has no interest in being funny. I’m sure all the talented folks involved will move on to better things soon enough (I can’t recall the last time I saw Mira Sorvino on the big screen, but it was great to see her here). Which is great, because something this bad should never take prominence on one’s resume.