Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

'Stuber': Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani are bringing back bromantic comedy

'Stuber' is a successor of the action-comedy 'buddy' films of the '80s and '90s, writes James Mottram

Dave Bautista, left, and Kumail Nanjiani in a scene from 'Stuber'. Mark Hill / 20th Century Fox via AP
Dave Bautista, left, and Kumail Nanjiani in a scene from 'Stuber'. Mark Hill / 20th Century Fox via AP

The arrival of Stuber in cinemas will, for a certain section of the audience, evoke a warm glow of nostalgia. An action-comedy, directed by Michael Dowse, it recalls the buddy movies that Hollywood used to churn out with insatiable regularity in the ’80s and ’90s – films such as 48 Hrs, starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as a cop and a criminal who team up to track down a killer, and Midnight Run, with Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter who escorts Charles Grodin, an accountant, cross-country.

It’s remarkable to think that back then, this genre was a Hollywood staple, and films such as Lethal ­Weapon and Bad Boys spawned franchises. ­Stuber, in UAE cinemas from Thursday, while veering slightly more towards the comedic, draws from this well, as Dave Bautista plays Vic, a world-­weary Los Angeles police officer who, as the actor puts it, “doesn’t really like people, isn’t really polite and is obsessed with his job”.

One of the key inspirations for Vic was 48 Hrs’s hard-nosed law enforcer Jake Cates, played by Nolte, who Dowse really wanted Bautista “to take a look at”, for the process of crafting his “real men don’t cry” character, Bautista says. In Stuber, Vic is spurred into action from the film’s opening scenes, when he loses his partner (Karen Gillan) in a drug bust in which he fails to capture the ruthless trafficker (Iko Uwais, from action classic The Raid) who shoots her.

It’s the first of several spectacular set-pieces, with Dowse keen to ensure the action balances out the humour. In this case, the Indonesian-born Uwais acrobatically drops down several flights of a building’s central atrium, a precarious stunt that he choreographed. “Not only is Iko amazing, but his stunt team is amazing,” says the evidently impressed Bautista, who knows more than a thing or two about physical action.

Bautista, 50, a former professional wrestler and bodybuilder, broke into Hollywood in The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) and Riddick (2013), before making an impression in James Bond film Spectre (2015) as villainous henchman Mr Hinx. But the 198cm-tall actor estimates that Uwais helped bring out a different side to his physical skills. “I think what he gave me was a much more street-style brute force kind of power,” he says.

While Bautista won global affection as Drax, the hilariously frank alien in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Stuber offers the chance for him to broaden his range by pairing him up with actor and stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing 2018 romantic comedy The Big Sick. “I had seen some of his stuff and he’s just hilarious, a real star in the making,” says Bautista.

In Stuber, scripted by newcomer Tripper Clancy, the buddy elementso familiar to those reared on 48 Hrs and the like, is given a neat twist. Nanjiani’s Stu isn’t a fellow rogue cop or desperate criminal but an Uber driver who also works in a sporting goods store (its his annoying colleague who nicknames him “Stuber”). As Nanjiani says of Stu and Vic, “These two guys would never, ever, ever be friends, except in the situation where they’re sort of forced to work together.”

They meet when Vic – temporarily blinded after eye surgery – is forced to call for a cab in the line of duty, and so begins the zaniest night of Stu’s life, as he’s dragged into his passenger’s search for the killer who took his partner’s life. A “new millennial”, as Nanjiani calls him, Stu spends most of his time fretting about his Uber rating, which is slipping dangerously close to four stars – commercial suicide for a driver who relies on good reviews to keep his job.

As Vic forces Stu from one dangerous encounter to the next, it’s the classic odd couple set-up. “I think they’re polar opposites,” says Bautista. “They’re very conflicting characters – they don’t connect at all, they don’t get each other at all. There is no understanding there … but they respect each other; that they will become open-minded enough to see the other’s point of view.”

Dave Bautista, right, as Los Angeles police officer Vic; and Kumail Nanjiani, left, as Uber driver Stu in a scene from ‘Stuber’. Hopper Stone / 20th Century Fox via AP
Dave Bautista, right, as Los Angeles police officer Vic; and Kumail Nanjiani, left, as Uber driver Stu in a scene from ‘Stuber’. Hopper Stone / 20th Century Fox via AP

Of course, these reluctant buddies are left to learn from each other. The insensitive Vic has a difficult relationship with his daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales), a sculptor who has come to terms with the fact her father just isn’t around much. Meanwhile, Stu has been well and truly placed in the “friend” zone by Becca (Betty Gilpin), the woman he has mooned over for years without telling her how he really feels.

It’s what makes Stuber an intriguing comic successor to the likes of Midnight Run and 48 Hrs. “The script deals with interesting themes of masculinity where Vic would represent the old-school sort of Marlboro Man type and Stu represents much more … new-school themes of masculinity,” says Dowse. “And I thought it would be interesting to explore those different perceptions.”

The script deals with interesting themes of masculinity where Vic would represent the old-school sort of Marlboro Man type and Stu represents much more … new-school themes of masculinity.

Michael Dowse, director

Naturally, the one significant difference between Stuber and the buddy films of the past is that it is based on the near-ubiquitous ride-hailing cab firm Uber. With numerous references to the brand (from drivers offering snacks to boost ratings to sharing a ride by using the “Pool” option), “the pic’s script sometimes sounds like surreptitious branded content for said service,” complained the Hollywood Reporter, when the film premiered earlier this year at the South By Southwest film festival in Texas in the US.

It’s perhaps one of the few criticisms that can be aimed at Stuber, a film Bautista believes is going to make people laugh like they never have. Arguably that’s over-selling the intent of Dowse’s film. After all, 48 Hrs and its peers were never side-splittingly funny. That wasn’t the point; the humour was more gritty and grounded than that, coming from the mismatched characters. And in a very contemporary way, Stuber does just the same.

Stuber is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday

Updated: July 11, 2019 03:07 AM

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