Movie Review: In 'Stuber,' a buddy comedy runs on fumes
If you're going to see one comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani as an Uber driver, please make it the 2017 film he co-scripted, "The Big Sick."
In "Stuber," Nanjiani is again behind the wheel of a compact ride-sharing vehicle, but this time, the comedy is running on fumes and the company (Zoe Kazan in "The Big Sick," Dave Bautista in "Stuber") isn't nearly as good.
Stu is nicknamed "Stuber" by his obnoxious boss at a sporting goods store in a nod to his side gig. He's conscripted by Bautista's Vic, a Los Angeles police detective temporarily blinded by LASIK surgery, to drive him around town. Vic can hardly see, but he's hell-bent on pursuing the most lethally acrobatic drug dealer you've ever seen (Iko Uwais of "The Raid") who months ago killed Vic's partner.
Stu, desperate for a five-star rating, is reluctantly sucked into a "Beverly Hills Cop"-like buddy action comedy that quickly turns violent and a little shrill. Nanjiani and Bautista, the hulking former wrestler best known as Drax in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films, make a suitably odd pair. Stu is sensitive and nerdy, and desperate for his best friend (Betty Gilpin) to take him seriously as a romantic partner. Vic is gruff and bumbling and often appears almost literally as a bull in a china shop.
Tripper Clancy's script — a kind of comic version of Michael Mann's "Collateral," with Tom Cruise as a contract killer and Jamie Foxx as his cabbie — crafts a hardly novel running dialogue of masculinity. Occasionally, it hits just right, like when Nanjiani summarizes their dynamic: "You're built for justice. I'm built for brunch." But most of the time, it flails around in a stale routine. During a fight at the sporting goods store, Stu exclaims: "Real men cry!"
The movie's premise is one long Uber ad, but it's a clever enough buddy comedy setup, and both Nanjiani and Bautista are good comic performers. So what's missing here? Part of the trouble is that Bautista is playing too much to type (the twist on his brilliant Drax is that he's lovably emotional), and few actors benefit from having their eyes taken from them.
That leaves most of the comedy to Nanjiani, and he does an admirable job trying to give the material a lift. But director Michael Dowse ("Goon") struggles to find the right tone, leaning more into slapdash action scenes than jokes. Any chance of sustained chemistry between the two leads recedes in the rearview mirror.
"Stuber," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity. Running time: 105 minutes. Two stars out of four.