Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista are so appealing in Stuber—so personable and droll in their verbal parrying—that you can’t help wishing someone would put them in a buddy comedy someday. It wouldn’t even have to be a top-shelf buddy comedy—something, for example, that might have caught the attention of Eddie Murphy or Mel Gibson back in the day. No, it could be a middling piece of hackwork and Nanjiani and Bautista would probably keep it afloat. Hell, they keep this movie afloat—well, almost—and it’s not even middling hackwork.
Stuber is remarkably bad, even for a genre in which excellence rarely runs rampant. The story has a primordial familiarity. Bautista plays Vic, an LAPD detective obsessed with catching the bigshot drug dealer (Iko Uwais, of The Raid) who shot and killed his partner (a fleeting appearance by Bautista’s Guardians of the Galaxy associate Karen Gillan). Six months after that sad event, Vic still hasn’t captured this guy, and it looks like he won’t be doing so any time soon, because he just had laser eye surgery and then climbed behind the wheel of his car and promptly drove it into a ditch. Undeterred—there are still leads to pursue! —Vic summons an Uber. A driver named Stu (Nanjiani) heeds the call. (Here I think we can agree that combining “Stu” and “Uber” to create a title for this movie is an instance of shameless creative laziness.)
Now we meet Stu. He is of course the polar opposite of Vic. Where Vic is a raging bull and built like a double-wide refrigerator, Stu is mild of manner, reed-like in physique, and frustrated in his Uber job, which consists of ferrying morons around town all day and never getting a coveted five-star rating from any of them. He also has a second gig working at a sporting-goods store (a strained narrative invention). So Stu is ready for change, and he’s hoping to open a “spin gym for women” with his whiny sort-of-girlfriend Becca (Betty Gilpin). This pointless subplot has no payoff, and in an uncharitable mood one might suspect that it was shoehorned into the movie solely to pad it out to 93 minutes.
Stu arrives at Vic’s pickup site and is confronted by an angry, near-blind muscle mountain who commandeers his car until further notice. He then leads Stu off on a tour of the movie’s requisite assortment of kooky characters, with furious gun battles inserted along the way. There’s a stop at a gay strip club (where Steve Howey has a funny bit as one of the strippers) followed by a visit to a ghetto drug den, outside of which Stu accidentally shoots one of the dealers. This wounded lowlife then has to be transported for repair to a veterinary hospital that Vic patronizes in such legally shadowy situations. There are also low-impact plot complications provided by Vic’s needy daughter (Natalie Morales) and his boss, Captain McHenry (Mira Sorvino). And more gun battles, of course.
The movie fails in areas you might have thought it hard to screw up at this late date in action-flick history. To begin with, the action is incoherent—the uninventive fight choreography lacks detail and thus oomph, and the juddery camerawork keeps you wondering what’s going on at all times. Director Michael Dowse also mounts a car chase that consists just about entirely of car-chase clichés. And the script, by Tripper Clancy (whose resume consists of two previous German-language features), is hobbled by a pair of irritating implausibilities. One, why would a cop who can barely see insist on barging around with a gun in search of a suspect who will be, at best, only a blur if he somehow finds him? And two, why would Nanjiani’s Uber driver not bail on this rampaging rider at the first opportunity? A similar question will likely occur to any viewers who find themselves trapped in a theatre with this movie.
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