2019, R, 93 min. Directed by Michael Dowse. Starring Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Karen Gillan, Betty Gilpin, Natalie Morales, Steve Howey, Mira Sorvino, Iko Uwais.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 12, 2019
I’ve been trying to imagine what the pitch meeting for this massive slice of Uber product placement probably sounded like, and I think I finally nailed it. “Drax the Destroyer, as a cop hot on the trail of the slimeball that murdered his partner, meets cute with that guy from The Big Sick, an Uber driver, and forces him to assist in the search even though the Big Sick guy has a hot date with the girl he loves that same night. Trouble is, Drax’s just gone through Lasik surgery and can’t see a damn thing. Hilarity ensues! Boffo box office!” Yeah, that sounds about right, but the trouble is Tripper Clancy’s ham-fisted screenplay. Rife with all the generic trappings of the shopworn, mismatched buddy cop action-comedy genre, Clancy’s script suffers from a surfeit of originality with scarcely a fresh take on anything. Despite a seemingly can’t-miss cast, Stuber – which debuted as a work-in-progress at SXSW 2019 – epically fails in the hilarity department and fizzles on the action front despite the incendiary presence of Indonesian actor/stunt coordinator Uwais of The Raid fame. It’s the sort of movie that defines the term “summer doldrums” in a way few others have.
Bautista is Vic, the aforementioned hell-bent-on-vengeance L.A.P.D. cop who commandeers Stu (Nanjiani), Stu’s sparkling clean Prius, and most importantly, Stu’s 20/20 eyesight. Following the surgery, Vic’s world is rendered a whirling blur for the recuperative 24 hours, which is mined as a source of comedy gold but instead turns out to be as predictably unfunny as lead. Bautista and Nanjiani have proven themselves to be excellent comedic actors in their own rights, but the ossified banter and situations the wildly contrived plot puts them in have all the crackle and spark of a wet napkin.
You can see why it seemed like a no-brainer to pair them here. The two characters couldn’t be more different; they’re like polar opposites of post-#MeToo masculinity. The introverted, anal-retentive Stu reflexively buffs his prized Prius and offers his riders free chocolates to boost his chances of getting that all-important five-star Uber rating, while the temporarily blind Vic bumbles and stumbles his way through one groaningly bad bit of hoary slapstick after another, inflicting semi-random mayhem while dishing out truly awful dating and relationship tips on the side. Unfortunately, very little here genuinely clicks. As Becca, the object of Stu’s desire and frustration, GLOW’s Gilpin gets the best comic lines, and indeed the entire cast seems game but ultimately limited by the leaden script. Director Dowse has some terrific comedies on his CV, among them 2004’s EDM DJ satire It’s All Gone Pete Tong and the wallopingly weird hockey gem Goon, but the mildly, kinda/sorta-entertaining-if-you’ve-got-nothing-better-to-do Stuber isn’t one of them.