Florence Foster Jenkins took the stage at Carnegie Hall in 1944. She would perform a selection of the most technically difficult operatic works of the time before an audience of 2,800 people. But Jenkins was hardly a world-renowned soprano — in fact, she was famously tone-deaf. Despite her brazen confidence, she proved herself, again and again, to be utterly immune to any notion of pitch.
“Stuber” endeavors to be an at least semi-clever comedy satirizing the classic buddy cop genre, poking fun at its more absurd clichés while unironically preserving the ones that happen to serve the narrative. Running in front of a bullet intended for someone else is physically impossible, but emerging unscathed from a vehicle that’s flipped over four times and slammed into a tree is still fair game. All that’s well and good, but much like Jenkins, “Stuber” is utterly insensitive (or perhaps indifferent) to its shortcomings, and it plunges full steam ahead without taking stock of its losses.
The film follows Vic (Dave Bautista), a police officer determined to avenge the death of his former partner by bringing the terrorist who killed her (Iko Uwais) to justice. The opportunity presents itself for Vic to catch him, but there’s a snag — he’s just undergone LASIK eye surgery, and his vision is only a blurry haze. He enlists (or, rather, coerces) Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), an Uber driver desperately seeking a rider who will give him a five-star rating, as his partner in the chase.
But Stu isn’t happy to be along for the ride. Every moment he spends with Vic is a moment that delays his visit to Becca (Betty Gilpin), his best friend and unrequited love. She’s never had feelings for Stu, but back at her apartment, Becca has had several glasses of wine, and she’s finally drunk enough to invite Stu over for (nonconsensual) rebound sex. When other characters find time to call Stu out, it’s not for attempting to take advantage of a vulnerable woman — it’s for not being man enough to tell her how he truly feels.
Somewhere in the melee, the duo finds time to constantly argue about the definition of manhood. In one particular sequence, the two communicate their opinions to each other by duking it out in a sporting goods store, smashing each other with baseball bats and shoving fish hooks into each other’s faces while shouting platitudes like “Real men cry!” and “The future is female!” There’s evidence of a script that was trying to manufacture some cheeky irony, and it’s a shame to see nothing come of it.
The film reaches for high notes by attempting to incorporate commentary on police brutality and gentrification, but it falls egregiously flat when Vic demonstrates he’s willing to bully civilians into submission, invade neighborhoods that are outside his jurisdiction and violently assault unarmed people of color. Throughout all of it, he never endures any consequences for his actions. In this way, the script practically hinges on an audience that’s willing to believe that these are acceptable behaviors for an officer.
Whenever the obnoxious shaky cameras slide into focus long enough, Nanjiani desperately tries to salvage the embarrassing script. The few moments in the film that actually solicit laughter can be entirely credited to Nanjiani’s delivery. Bautista, meanwhile, packs practically nothing other than a strong punch. Granted, he didn’t have much to work with.
Blissfully, “Stuber” clocks in at a brisk 93 minutes, and it saves many of its best jokes for the final 15 minutes. The final showdown plays it safe with a precise and predictable action sequence, and that’s hardly anything to complain about. The last thing this film needed was an ambitious, thoughtful ending — it just needed to end, and quickly.
Contact Shannon O’Hara at [email protected].