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Collateral, Damaged: 'Stuber' Is A Tired Retread

By Chris Klimek | NPR
Thursday, July 11, 2019

In Michael Mann's surprisingly funny 2004 thriller Collateral, assassin Tom Cruise takes meek taxi driver Jamie Foxx hostage, forcing him to spend a terrifying night ferrying the hitman around Los Angeles as they're pursued by lawmen who think the cabbie is the killer.

In Michael Dowse's surprisingly bloody new comedy Stuber, burned-out narc Dave Bautista takes meek Uber driver Kumail Nanjiani hostage, forcing him to spend a terrifying night ferrying the cop around Los Angeles as they're pursued by drug dealers who think the driver is the detective.

In both films, the self-effacing Mr. Nice Guy behind the wheel learns, through exposure to his ass-kicking passenger, to be more confident and assertive —more specifically, to tell the women in their lives for whom they harbor suppressed feelings of attraction exactly how they feel.

Oh, well. If mimicry were a hanging offense, you'd be able to find street parking in Hollywood. But the customary practice is to distribute your larceny among at least a few targets. Stuber's more-than-casual resemblance to one specific earlier film just makes its inspiration-deficit more apparent: Collateral had two big stars both playing against type, in the hands of a first-rate visual stylist. Stuber has two likeable comic talents both reprising what they've done in better movies, in the hands of a director whose most notable prior credit is the Canadian hockey comedy Goon.

If Stuber cribs from Collateral in plot and character, it at least changes up the tone, mostly by never bothering to sustain a consistent one from one scene to the next. Scatological humor here, gunshot wounds there, a few minutes of earnest emotional maturation, played utterly straight, waaaaay over here.

This is the latest in a line of R-rated summer comedies (like last August's The Spy Who Dumped Me, and last month's Shaft) that aim to satirize trigger-happy action film tropes, but merely end up iterating them with less skill and imagination — and worse, a more wanton attitude towards violence — than the movies they're supposedly sending up. Though it runs just 93 minutes, Stuber is padded by gunfights that are neither thrilling nor funny, though their mix of selective slo-mo and irreverent soundtrack cuts tells us Dowse wants them to be both. Or at least one of the two. He hasn't decided.

The movie's comic centerpiece is a mano-a-mountain-o fight scene between the hulking Bautista and more common-sized Nanjiani, set in the sporting goods store where Nanjiani's character — that would be Stu, the Uber driver, get it? —works by day. It's an amusing bit of slapstick for a minute a so, and then it continues for approximately a day-and-a-half. And it just doesn't have the buoyant musical escalation that makes the expertly staged melees in the John Wick movies so ... well, funny.

The comparison is a fair one, because Dowse has cast a legit martial arts star —Iko Uwais, who came to worldwide attention in 2011's Indonesian breakout hit The Raid: Redemption — as his villain. With the exception of an utterly extraneous prologue wherein Uwais eludes capture by Bautista and his partner (and Guardians of the Galaxy co-star) Karen Gillan, climaxing with him shooting Gillan dead in the middle of the street — ha ha ha, heartwarming summer comedy, everybody! — Dowse doesn't even really exploit Uwais's wild acrobatic talents. Uwais is a god-level performer, but not because his English line readings are so expressive.

The movie's other criminally squandered resource is Betty Gilpin, who plays Becca, the platonic housemate/business partner for whom Stu harbors a crush that is slowly killing him. Her entire role consists of her breaking up with her unseen cretin boyfriend, getting drunk, and then calling up Stu and summoning him home to have sex with her. Given that Gilpin's character on the marvelous Netflix series G.L.O.W. is an actor who is frustrated by the fact that she only ever got cast for her looks, for Stuber to reduce her to a helpless hot chick with the emotional intelligence of a stationary bike (the dream business she has talked Stu into investing in is a women-only spin-class gym) is just adding insult to insult.

The movie does a little better with what it gives Natalie Morales to play as Bautista's daughter — a sculptor who is trying to get her checked-out father to show up for her first gallery show — and a lot worse with what it gives Mira Sorvino as Bautista's boss.

In fact, the only scenes that don't feel too long are the ones where Bautista and Nanjiani are cramped into Stu's electric car together bickering like the buddy cops they might've been. They're both strong and charismatic actors, capable of nailing a joke while also playing the current of sadness beneath it. Their rapport feels genuine. It deserves a better movie than Stuber.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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