GREG'S GRADE: C+
The not-so-cleverly named "Stuber" is an action comedy that's much more adept at the latter than the former. The laughs mostly come from the heavy lifting of Kumail Nanjiani, with virtually no help from his dour co-star, Dave Bautista. So funny and likable as the literal-minded Drax in "Guardians of the Galaxy," here Bautista is a chore to be around, ripping the life and personality — which Nanjiani works so hard to inject — straight out of the movie.
I'll give points for originality to an action movie that builds up to a hug as its climax, but that is the extent of its creativity.
After his big screen breakthrough as a comedian/Uber driver in 2017's "The Big Sick," Nanjiani is Stu, a sporting goods salesman who moonlights as an Uber driver for extra cash to pay for his share of opening a gym with his best friend/longtime crush, Becca (Betty Gilpin). (Stu, Uber—get it?) Stu is a modern man, in touch with his feelings. "Real men cry!" he insists. He covets his five-star Uber rating, providing passengers in his leased Prius with bottled water, Canadian chocolates and an iPod loaded with any music you can think of.
Bautista is Vic, a hard-nosed detective married to his job and barely a presence in the life of his adult, artist daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales). He's also getting a little up in years, and with that, his eyesight is starting to go. That's nothing laser surgery won't fix, but it's an inconvenience when, just after the procedure, Vic gets a tip on a notorious drug dealer/cop killer (Iko Uwais) he's been tracking. With his vision a blurry mess, he manages to pull up his Uber app, then forces poor, unsuspecting Stu to drive him through the seediest parts of Los Angeles as he hunts down the bad guy.
All Stu wants to do is earn another five stars and then go to Becca, who's just had a messy breakup and needs a shoulder to cry on. Instead, he finds himself in one gunfight after another, just trying to stay alive.
Directed by Michael Dowse ("Goon"), "Stuber" is unusually violent for a movie that presents itself as a light-hearted action comedy. And it doesn't help that the action is staged with little visual flair or spatial coherence. A brawl in the sporting goods store shows at least some imagination, and without life-or-death stakes, it can be played for laughs more effectively than the bloody sequences before and after it.
The screenplay by Tripper Clancy does the movie no favors, serving simply to drag the characters from one spot to the next and reveal a from-out-of-nowhere villain.
Nanjiani really is the only thing "Stuber" has going for it. His riffing — I wonder how much of it was ad-libbed — draws consistent laughs, which is quite a feat given the carnage around him. With this just his second starring role, his screen presence is fresh enough to lift the movie up to a mild recommendation for fans of its genre.
Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity. 93 minutes.
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