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Front Page - Friday, July 19, 2019

Critic's Corner: Buddy, this comedy is no match for classics of popular genre

The first time I heard people cheer during a movie was at the end of “Lethal Weapon 2,” when Detective Murtaugh shoots a bad guy who’s claiming diplomatic immunity and then quips, “It’s been revoked.”

The “Lethal Weapon” films offered the classic pairing of the nearly retired Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and the unhinged Detective Riggs (Mel Gibson), polar opposites who eventually became friends as they took down criminals and saved the day.

The storylines might have been forgettable, but the chemistry between the two stars, the humor and the action made the series one of the more memorable entries in the mismatched buddy-cop subgenre of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“Stuber” aims to recapture the fun and excitement of movies like “Lethal Weapon,” “48 Hours” and “Rush Hour,” but there was very little laughing and no cheering at the screening I attended.

Technically, “Stuber” isn’t a mismatched buddy cop movie, as only one of the lead characters is a cop. Still, grizzled LAPD detective Vic Manning and Uber driver Stu could not be more different as the former drafts the latter into a bid to bring down a drug lord.

Manning is played by Dave Bautista, a retired professional wrestler, former mixed martial artist and bodybuilder. This hulking mountain of sinew and muscle is also the actor who plays Drax the Destroyer in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films.

Cast as Stu is comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who comes fresh from “The Big Sick,” a romantic comedy in which he played an Uber driver in Chicago. (Nanjiani could be just one movie away from being typecast. If he’s offered the role of an Uber driver in New York City, he might want to pass.)

Stu is an amicable creampuff who sputters his way through most conversations and can’t tell the woman he loves how he feels. However, in one of the few perceptive bits of character development in “Stuber,” he does become half-owner of her spin class business.

The plot, as it were, kicks into gear when someone spots the drug lord Manning is after in LA. Unfortunately, Manning has just been given an eye exam that left his vision cloudy, so he can barely negotiate a table at a restaurant, let alone chase a criminal. After a failed attempt at driving, he forces Stu to taxi him around LA.

I’d like to say hilarious hijinks ensue, but they don’t. Instead, a dull script carries the duo from one uninspired scene to the next.

Bautista and Nanjiani play their parts competently but have no chemistry, which all but kills the movie from the onset. Instead of the clever banter and gradually developing friendship of Murtaugh and Riggs, we have two actors who rely on their respective shtick to carry them through each scene.

Because no one involved in the making of the movie made sure Bautista and Nanjiani found some kind of unique harmony, scenes that should have provided key moments – such as the one in which Manning and Stu duke it out in a sporting goods store – fall flat.

The near lack of stimulating comedy also hurts the film. I could count the number of times “Stuber” made me laugh on one hand – while watching the movie’s trailer. Bautista and Nanjiani have proven they can hit audiences in the funny bone, so the blandness of “Stuber” is disappointing.

I could say a few things about the script, but as the better films in this genre have proven, if you have two good leads and excellent chemistry, you don’t need a great story to make a winner.

Instead, I’ll grouse about Michael Dowse’s direction, which would be better suited for a cheap TV cop procedural. Dowse sets the tone with the opening scene, in which Manning chases and loses the drug lord, by holding the camera close to the action and shaking it around. The fight is a blurry mess.

I’ll contend until my dying breath that this is not done to immerse viewers in the fisticuffs but is the result of lazy or rushed choreography.

“Stuber” is about as ordinary as cinema gets. But if you’re feeling nostalgic for “Tango & Cash” or “Bad Boys” and simply must see it, wait until it’s available on the streaming channels. The less you invest in watching it, the less disappointed you’ll be.