Comedian-turned-actor Kumail Nanjiani and wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista star in Stuber, a simple, connect-the-dots action comedy that just gets over the line of passable thanks to its leads. What we have here is a film that attempts to skate by on the most basics of tropes, and thanks to some tried-and-tested formula work, it almost manages to do that. Almost.
The plot follows Stu (Nanjiani), a mild-mannered Uber driver who’s stuck in the friendzone with the girl of his dreams (Betty Gilpin) and who is constantly chasing 5-star scores from customers on the Uber app. Bautista plays grizzled detective Vic, who has a big reason to be obsessed with finding baddie Teijo (Iko Uwais, The Raid). Vic’s eyesight is proving to be a problem though, and a procedure to rectify the issue leaves him temporarily almost blind – right as a big lead on Teijo’s whereabouts comes into play. Unable to drive, Vic, who barely knows how the service works, orders an Uber…
A few minutes in and we’ve already seen a guy shot in the head, suggesting a throwback to the kinds of adult-aimed violent comedy that were common in the days of films like 48 Hrs., where blood and wisecracks walked hand in hand in the cineplexes. So there is a bit of a nostalgic vibe here, in that sense.
This is ultimately a Nanjiani and Bautista vehicle, and they carry every element of what makes this drive a somewhat harmless one to take. Nanjiani nails the irritating-yet-lovable quipper everyman, running his mouth with some well-timed one-liners and retorts. The more frustrated and angrier he gets, the funnier his moments are, and the pair’s odd couple-to-buddies journey does have its charm. A standout moment is a peak clash between the two, as they awkwardly try to battle it out inside the store that Stu works in.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of shortcomings that stop this from being a smooth ride. The overall narrative of the film is so thin that it comes down to the stars, the quick pace, and the thankfully short 90-or-so-minute runtime to ensure you don’t notice it too much. You’ve seen it all before, and no one’s coming to this one expecting a refreshing piece of cinema, but rising above the status quo would be nice. The plot’s lack of oomph comes down to motivation, or lack thereof. Characters seem to do be doing things… because. Something that could help is a decent antagonist to get that ball rolling, but alas.
The key narrative mover that’s been sorely neglected here is the villain, Teijo, who ends up being a flimsy, often obscure device to get the plot from A to B. It’s a real shame that it feels as though no effort went into the antagonistic region of the screenplay, since that’s something that really helps… you know, the ACTION. And if you’ve ever seen the Raid films or actioners such as The Night Comes for Us and Headshot, you’ll know of what Uwais can deliver in terms of screen presence and – here’s the obvious part – physicality. Honestly, do not get Uwais if you’re going to give him a throwaway, barely there role like this. Admittedly, perhaps this may be the trajectory he has to take to make bigger waves in English-language cinema? But c’mon, to barely give him one sequence that showcases some of his combat prowess, apart from a kick and punch here and there, really is a wasted opportunity. Also wasted, by the way, is Betty Gilpin, who’s fantastic in Netflix series GLOW.
As a result, the action doesn’t have much to drive it – apart from the ‘oh, should we get to this location now?’ of it all. The action does little to nothing to move the plot forward, but it does occasionally show some promise. Promise, to be clear, of some slickly crafted mayhem with sprinkles of Michael Bay-ness. There’s plenty of slow-mo bullets and blood spray, although those keen to check out some stand-out action set pieces will be left wanting. And keeping that shaky cam down a little would help.
The handful of shootouts are handled well enough, but it’s disappointing when the sequences wrap without much fun been had with the violence itself; we’re generally left waiting for Nanjiani’s reactions for a laugh. As mentioned, it is violent; why not use the freedom that a higher rating entails and get crazy? Perhaps this writer sounds macabre, but some Deadpool-style lunacy with the carnage could have given this ride a little more personality. Hey, at least a guy gets his bullet hole fingered.
Ultimately, while it’s very easy to find the issues with Stuber, there’s no denying the appealing elements: namely Nanjiani and Bautista. The film’s leads embrace their roles and have some decent chemistry, and there’s a carefree vibe to it all that does prove to be somewhat infectious. Should you see it? If the trailer appeals, sure. But maybe wait for it on Netflix.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Stuber’ opens in Australia cinemas on July 11 and hits US cinemas on July 12.