Movies

Kumail Nanjiani is the only thing that keeps Stuber from driving off the road

Kumail Nanjiani is fast developing a reputation as the one good thing in otherwise bad movies. A month ago, his voice work as the tiny alien Pawny singlehandedly saved Men in Black: International from being a total Neuralyzer write-off. Now his starring role in Stuber keeps this Uber driver/cop buddy comedy from driving off the road. Barely.

If you’ve seen the trailers for Stuber, then (A) you’ve already seen the best bits – barring the surprise parrot in the veterinarian’s – and (B) you’ll know that Nanjiani plays Stu, an employee at a sporting-goods store who moonlights as an Uber driver.

The opening scene, in addition to preparing viewers for the atrocious editing and camerawork to follow, introduces Dave Bautista as Vic Manning, a Los Angeles cop whose partner is gunned down by a drug dealer about whom we never learn anything else. He’s bad; got it.

Manning then undergoes laser eye surgery that leaves him temporarily nearsighted. So when he gets a tip as to where to find the bad guy, he hires an Uber to get there. Stu, meet Vic.

The cop/civilian buddy comedy is a sub-genre stretching back at least to 1982’s 48 Hours, which paired Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. A more recent example would be 2014’s Ride Along with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. And there was even a pre-Uber driver/killer pairing in Michael Mann’s 2004 thriller Collateral, with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

Stuber spins the whole thing for laughs, although it’s instructive to note that the more it pushes for comedy, the less funny it becomes. Similarly, the more action on screen, the less sense it makes. Why, for instance, does every baddie (including the inevitable I-thought-that-was-a-good-guy!) stop short of killing our protagonists so they can pontificate at length before being stopped?

The loose plot, with Vic tracking his quarry, allows screenwriter Tripper Clancy to string together oddball episodic scenes. So Vic heads to a strip club (male strippers, though his wonky vision tells him otherwise), has a shootout in a vet’s office, gets in a fight in the aforementioned sporting-goods store, and crashes a hot-sauce factory.

Stu gamely follows, though all he really wants is to get back to his crush and business partner Becca (Betty Gilpin), who has put out a booty call. His stream-of-consciousness responses to danger provide all the laughs you’ll get from the movie. Bautista has said in interviews that he doesn’t really see himself as a comic actor, which is good because after this movie, and notwithstanding his deadpan role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, neither do I. Bumbling around with his myopic vision, he destroys everything in his path, starting with audience goodwill.

Canadian director Michael Dowse is the man at the wheel, which presumably explains why Stu’s Uber is stocked with “Canadian chocolate” in the form of Coffee Crisps. Dowse has done much better work at home, with titles like Fubar (and its TV spinoff), the hockey comedy Goon and the 2013 rom-com The F Word. He’s taken a wrong turn with this one, and while I feel bad for him, I also didn’t enjoy the ride. If Stuber were an Uber, 2 pity-stars is all it would rate.

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