Stuber [STOO-ber]: a portmanteau of “Stu,” the name of one of the protagonists of Stuber, played by Kumail Nanjiani, and “Uber,” the transportation company for which Stu moonlights as a driver.
How much mileage you get out of that joke will serve as a pretty good benchmark for your enjoyment of the motion picture Stuber. Directed by Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight), the action-comedy is the equivalent to an Uber ride you’d give five stars, not because it’s particularly stellar in any way, but because it’s fine, and you’ll be done thinking about it as soon as it’s over.
A sort of comedic version of Michael Mann’s Collateral, Stuber sends Stu on a wild goose chase around Los Angeles when he picks up Vic (Dave Bautista), a cop with an axe to grind against a drug lord (played by The Raid star Iko Uwais). Immediately, the two clash; Stu is mild-mannered and eager to please — not to mention eager to answer a booty call from longtime friend and crush Becca (Betty Gilpin) — while Vic is extremely aggressive, too preoccupied with his job to focus on his family, and determined to crack the case before he lets Stu go.
There are a few moments that defy expectations — how the film takes down toxic masculinity by showing just how silly Vic’s “be a man” attitude is, or more broadly speaking, the fact that both leads are of Asian descent, which is treated as completely normal and hardly commented on except for a brief scene in which Stu mistakenly assumes Vic is white — but for the most part, Stuber is an ’80s action movie beamed into 2019 for nostalgic enjoyment. There’s not that much in it that you haven’t seen before (unless you’ve never seen an action movie), and the action is so shakily shot that it often borders on incoherent.
The jokes mostly save the day. Bautista in particular shines, showing a knack for physical comedy as Vic, who is recovering from Lasik surgery (hence the Uber), stumbles through scene after scene like a bull in a china shop. Since breaking out in Guardians of the Galaxy, Bautista has proven himself the man who can do it all, just as at home in comedies as auteur cinema (he was one of the best parts of the recent Blade Runner 2049, and seems similarly set to steal scenes in the upcoming Dune).
Nanjiani, despite being reliably funny, is a little more hampered by how familiar most of the story is. The “I’ve been in love with my best friend forever” storyline is somehow en vogue this summer, and doesn’t fare much better here, though Stuber is commendably a little more forward-thinking in how that crush plays out.
Inevitably, however, the action takes over. Despite the choreography caliber of the film’s stars, the action set-pieces are muddled (a huge pity given Uwais’ casting), and consequently uninteresting, especially in comparison with the smaller, odder comedic beats that populate the film’s background. To wit, the absolute funniest scene in the movie belongs to American Vandal’s Jimmy Tatro — and has almost no bearing on the main action.
Again, there’s nothing outright offensive about Stuber. If anything, like Stu, the film wishes to please; it wants that five-star rating. While it might be easy to give a five-star rating to an innocuous car ride, the same can’t be said of movies, especially not movies that essentially function as glorified ads for a corporate brand.
Stuber is in theaters now.