‘Stuber’ Rides a Hijacked Uber Into Nothing but Missed Opportunities
It’s fitting that “Stuber” takes place mostly inside a hijacked Uber ride. Most of it feels like being trapped in a car next to someone sharing endless, annoying jokes. Two actors we wouldn’t mind seeing paired together, big Dave Bautista and not so big Kumail Nanjiani, have the comedic chops but the script is simply not worthy of them. The whole movie feels confused about who it wants to appeal to. Screwball humor suddenly goes for raunch, innocent gags get bloodier than a Fincher movie, with the entire thing filmed without any life to its style.
Stu (Nanjiani) is just another Los Angeles resident driving Uber to make extra money in addition to his usual, soul-crushing job at a sport’s shop. He’s acquired a new Prius but is not a winner when it comes to star ratings. Then one day he crosses paths with a cop named Vic (Bautista), who is obsessed with tracking down a drug runner who murdered his partner six months ago. When Vic gets a tip that could lead to finally nabbing the fiend he basically hijacks Stu and his car. Having just undergone laser surgery on his eyes and crashing his own car, Vic isn’t in the best condition to drive (or you would think shoot and arrest someone). This causes serious problems in Stu’s social life considering co-worker Becca (Betty Gilpin) just broke up with her gym-modeling boyfriend and wants to have rebound sex. Stu assures her he’ll be at her place soon but Vic makes him drive around from strip clubs to shady warehouses, putting him in danger and taunting his weak attitude. Instead of getting laid Stu will get punched, shot at and continuously knocked out. But at least the ride fee keeps going up.
“Stuber” attempts to revive the rowdy cop buddy movie of years past, but it also wants to be a poorly-shot testosterone fest. Director Michael Dowse could have gone for a visually lively experience like “Hot Fuzz,” or actual macho muscle flexing in the tradition of “Lethal Weapon.” Instead “Stuber” has no visual liveliness and a brutish attitude that’s devoid of any good laughs. The screenplay is by Tripper Clancy, who has previously mostly written comedies in Germany with dapper names like “Four Against the Bank” and “Hot Dog.” His yarn for “Stuber” feels like a collection of ideas thrown around together for no other reason than to justify having something to shoot. The idea of a cop hijacking a car for the day has much slapstick potential. But the best we get is that Vic had Lasik surgery, which then provides an excuse for the admittedly funny early bit of Bautista wearing special shades that seem too small for his enormous head. The two have to go to male strip club to interview a lead, which gives Dowse the chance to use the old trick of showing someone walking around with their manhood in the background, as Stu tries to assure Becca over facetime that he’s still DTF. It’s an example of the typical scene that is not particularly funny, mostly because the dialogue is as flat as a punched tire. The same goes for other moments that would be funnier with more edge or wit, like Stu figuring out the best way to text Becca that he’s on his way for sex, but doesn’t know if he should be subtle or blunt. What will inspire a laugh or two is the simple presence of Nanjiani, who knows how to look and act hilariously pathetic. The “Big Sick” actor is a natural fit for this character, but not the actual content provided. He was much funnier as the sarcastic Pawny, a tiny alien in the recent “Men in Black: International.”
Most of “Stuber” races along with one flat gag after another. Confused by its own intentions, it then tries to be a bloody action movie. You can do hilarious carnage as in “Deadpool,” but Dowse relies on repeating the same motif over and over, mainly people getting shot in the face intentionally or by accident. When he clumsily hurtles a propane tank that shatters a pursuer’s face it’s slightly funnier, just because it has a little of the edge lacking everywhere else. The plot is centered around a lot of driving, as you can imagine, as Vic chases after a villain who is completely uninteresting. Teijo (Iko Uwais), the drug dealer obsessing the cop, says nothing, just smiles maniacally, fires his gun and is upstaged by the production design. His best scene is when Vic and Stu chase him into a Sriracha-sauce factory, where the Sriracha proves to be more dangerous. He gets one last fight scene with Bautista which is more absurd than comic, particularly because Bautista is such a tank some of Uwais’s moves like ridiculously unbelievable and lazily choreographed. His only contribution to the humor is how much he resembles every other Asian gangster stereotype. Natalie Morales is wasted charm as Vic’s daughter Nicole, who conveniently becomes part of the final action scene.
One of the great oddities of this film is that the starring pair go well together. Bautista and Nanjiani in a better movie would be the perfect opposites to stick together on a case. Bautista, the former WWE star, revealed his talent for low-key, sparse comedy as the simple-minded Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” A side note: Bautista’s “Guardians” co-star Karen Gillan plays the fellow cop gunned down by the evil Teijo. “Stuber” doesn’t get that what makes Bautista funny is his very look combined with lovable aloofness, the way Around Schwarzenegger would use pure friendliness in his comedies. We don’t need him screaming, punching and pretending to be another Vin Diesel. Although the only moment in “Stuber” that is funny for its own sake is a moment where Vic and Stu start beating the tar out of each other with sports supplies, even making the inevitable weight to the crotch routine a chortle. Maybe it’s because that’s when everything else shuts up and lets the two be pure goofballs.
There’s not much else to “Stuber.” Even the cinematography by Bobby Shore is stale, saturated color. Most of the entertainment comes from watching two talented leads carry a plot that runs fast out of gas. It’s an Uber ride that merits no tip.
“Stuber” opens July 12 in theaters nationwide.