Going nowhere: Ride around comedy Stuber is worse than it sounds

Despite the chemistry between Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, Stuber can’t keep pace with other buddy comedies. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox Despite the chemistry between Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, Stuber can’t keep pace with other buddy comedies. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

Did Stuber get greenlit because of its name, or in spite of it? Whatever its origins, it’s bad. Really bad. The kind of bad where even when it does land a solid gag, you’re so frustrated that you don’t even grant it a chuckle, out of pure resentment. Its charismatic leads Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista do what they can with what they’re given, and their pairing is good enough to retry in a better movie, but the yelling-about-things-that-just-happened (think Horrible Bosses 2) is a genre that has never been, and never will be, funny.

A dud buddy action comedy that’s beneath the talents of its cast is nothing new. What makes Stuber frustrating instead of just forgettable is that Michael Dowse’s direction comes alive when things get violent. During an interminable banterfest where zero jokes land, a bad guy will pull up or storm in, guns will blaze and fists will fly, and suddenly this thing has a pulse, only to lose it again when someone opens his mouth. It’s like if Richard Donner had Kevin Smith direct all the dialogue for Lethal Weapon, but he lost the script and made everybody improvise. Nothing adds up, and the good action comes too infrequently and ends too quickly to redeem the bad parts. Stuber skimps on its strengths and doubles down on its flaws. It’s worse than a regular bad movie because it didn’t have to be this way.

Stuber

R, 93 minutes

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Stu (Nanjiani) is an Uber driver whose services are commandeered by Vic (Bautista), a tougher-than-nails cop in pursuit of the drug trafficker (Iko Uwais) who killed his partner (Karen Gillan) a year before. Vic is an old-fashioned cop who barely knows how the app works, unclear on why he can’t just tell the cabbie where to go and keep the meter running. Complicating matters for Vic is that he’s just had eye surgery on the same day that he gets his hot tip, meaning he has to rely on Stu not only for transportation, but routine police work and even roughing up bad guys.

There are a few worthwhile premises here, some that have been done before to greater effect, and at least one that might be somewhat original. The pairing of a ruthless passenger and a driver whose life is going nowhere fast worked well in Collateral—granted, a very different type of movie—where it relied on the shifting lines of that particular power dynamic. No such intrigue here. There is a theme in Stuber of reconciling different forms of masculinity—Stu’s cowardly acquiescence and Vic’s aggressive bulldozer of a personality have led both of their personal lives to dead ends—but to say Stuber challenges tropes of testosterone-laden action archetypes would be giving it far too much credit. It’s more accurate to say the movie recognizes the opening for subversion, points it out, then abandons it to have Stu scream some more about blood.

The story of a temporarily blind cop out for revenge is a great idea for a movie, and it could still work using the chemistry between these stars. Nanjiani is game for anything, and Bautista nails all of his character’s emotions, continuing his journey to become the latest wrestler-turned-actor to show genuine range. If only the jokes in Stuber were funny, the story went anywhere, or anything happened worth caring about.


Local theater listings:

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

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