Who doesn’t need some extra dollars these days? For his part, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) tries to earn some extra cash by being an Uber driver, a job that puts him contact with a whole lot of eccentric people that tend to give him low-star ratings for nonsensical reasons. If he gets lower than a 4-star rating, he gets kicked off the service, so Stu is determined to make every ride he can the best ride ever. This includes the ride he gives Victor (Dave Bautista), a cop hot on the trail of a drug-dealing gangster, Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais), that he has a personal score to settle with. Due to Victor having some vision problems stemming from Lasik surgery, he coerces Stu to help him out on this violent mission that this pacifist Uber driver is certainly not prepared for.
Much like a chocolate chip pancake with scrumptious chocolate chips but baked in subpar batter, the better parts of Stuber will make one wish it didn’t have such lackluster qualities dragging it down. Kumail Nanjiani handily fits into the “better parts” category as he reinforces his ability to headline a feature-length comedy with his fun performance in Stuber. Nanjiani’s portrayal of an everyman way in over his head is a lot of fun, the juxtaposition of Nanjiani’s relatable reactions to all the violent mayhem occuring around him proves to be a consistently enjoyable source of comedy, especially since it’s aided by Nanjiani’s gift for comedic timing.
Playing opposite is Nanjiani is Dave Bautista in his most high-profile lead role to date. Bautista’s stuck in an intentionally one-note part that doesn’t quite allow for Bautista’s chops as a performer seen in the likes of Blade Runner 2049 to flourish as much as they should. But anyone whose seen Guardians of the Galaxy knows that Bautista can handle dialogue-based comedy just fine and he gets his fair share of laughs deconstructing the uber masculinity of his Dirty Harry-esque character. Plus, he and Nanjiani have some fun moments of chemistry in the most laidback parts of Stuber, which, unfortunately, aren’t as prominent as they should be.
Honestly, the biggest issue with Stuber is that its a comedy that should probably just be fixated on the chemistry and performances of its two leads but instead ends up being way too focused on a generic cop action/mystery subplot involving Victor’s quest for vengeance against a drug lord. It’s a plotline that goes through the motions in terms of delivering requisite double-crosses, generically-written villains (Iko Uwais has little to do here, which is a shame), and worst of all, poorly filmed action scenes. Canadian filmmaker Michael Dowse, who previously directed What If? and Goon, tries his hand at action-comedy for the first time and ends up stumbling on the action part of the equation.
Anytime characters fight in hand-to-hand combat, particularly in an opening sequence set in a hotel, it’s filmed in shaky handheld camerawork that makes it hard to figure out what exactly is even happening on-screen. Iko Uwais action scenes deserve to better filmed than this! There’s also a potentially fun car chase scene set to a Styx song tries to channel Baby Driver but neither the direction nor the frantic editing can make a supposedly exciting scene all that exhilarating to watch. Why couldn’t they just dial back on these subpar action scenes riddled with subpar direction and overly dim lighting and instead give us more banter between Bautista and Nanjiani?
True, the persistently average direction and editing still persist in these conversation-driven sequences, like in an instance where the camera cuts to outside of the car the two lead characters are driving around in right in the middle of one of their conversations for no reason. But at least Bautista and especially Nanjiani can be reliably counted on to deliver a chuckle or two in these more low-key scenes. Both Tripper Clancy’s script and Michael Dowse’s direction suffer when it comes to executing the cop movie elements of Stuber, which is a shame given that there are some good elements in play here, including the brief presence of a cutie pit bull. Such elements deserve better than Stuber, a movie destined to serve as inoffensive but unengaging background noise airing on FX in weekday afternoons.