Stuber review

This isn’t quite a review, because what we saw at last night’s SXSW screening of Stuber wasn’t quite a finished film. But the work-in-progress print of Michael Dowse’s action buddy comedy felt finished enough to establish that stars Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani have the best possible comedic chemistry. Listen up, Oscars 2020.

Nanjiani plays Stu, a fastidious Uber driver lovesick over his best friend (Betty Gilpin). Bautista is Vic, a detective who’s been zeroing in on a heroin dealer for years, slowly sacrificing everything else in his life, including his relationship with his daughter (Natalie Morales), to get his man. After a Lasik appointment leaves Vic out of commission right as he gets a lead on the dealer, he hails an Uber, promptly ruining Stu’s day and threatening his five-star rating.

Depending on how you feel about action comedies of the ‘80s and ‘90s (I’m for ‘em), Stuber might hit just the right nostalgia chord for you, though the jokes feel freshened up for 2019. The laughs are huge, the action is major (did I mention The Raid’s Iko Uwais is in this movie? And not for nothing, so is Mira Sorvino!), and it’s got a giant, goofy heart in the middle of it. Sure, you’ve seen this story before (although all the Uber references are certainly new), and intentionally so, because Stuber gives a big, joyful nod to the films that came before it, from 48 Hours to Rush Hour.

But the really inspired part comes in Bautista and Nanjiani’s casting, a pairing that might feel unlikely on paper but registers as instantly legendary onscreen. Comedies can’t fake this kind of chemistry, and boy, have they tried. The two actors are just so funny together, with Nanjiani’s mild straight-man routine bumping up perfectly against Bautista’s grouchy bombast. And they’re sweet together, too, a sort of winsome, weird, reluctant friendship, like when you see a video of a Labrador and an elephant cuddling on the internet.

With any work-in-progress screening (and SXSW has hosted quite a few over the years), we can assume that there will still be some editing needs, some pacing adjustments, some coloring and sound fixes that remain. That makes for an illuminating viewing, because we’re left with just a raw story, one that isn’t polished up yet for mass consumption. None of the stuff that remains to be done affected the comedy of Stuber in the slightest, because there’s a natural charisma to the movie that doesn’t need to be found in the edit. And it certainly didn’t affect the action, which is tight, the ideal combo of thrilling, shocking and hilarious. So it’ll be interesting to see what makes it to Stuber’s final version – but I suspect after the way the movie played with this crowd, Dowse won’t feel the need to make too many changes.

Okay, so seriously, about the Oscars…

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About the Author

Meredith Borders is a freelance writer and the Contributing Editor of the newly revived FANGORIA magazine. She and her husband own City Acre Brewing in Houston.