Stuber (2019) (R) ★★

Review Date: July 12th, 2019

Stuber is as bland and generic a mismatched buddy action-comedy as you're likely to find. The screenplay, credited to Tripper Clancy (no relation to Tom), is less a fully formed story than a series of checked boxes. Movies of this sort normally head direct to the oblivion of video on demand, but apparently the participation of Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani was sufficient to encourage 20th Century Fox to dump this into theaters. It's hard to see it gaining any traction. The movie doesn't do anything well and it's an open question why anyone would pay money to see a reworking of a premise that offers so little. What was fresh in the '80s hasn't merely grown stale in the intervening decades but has developed some mildew as well.

For any action-comedy buddy film to work, it has to excel in at least one of its three prime categories. If the action isn't of the white-knuckle variety and the comedy doesn't provoked side-splitting laughter then at least the interaction of the two protagonists has to engage and entertain. In Stuber, the gunfights and chases are pedestrian, the humor is at best uneven, and the Bautista/Nanjiani chemistry is M.I.A. While Bautista seems at home providing a low-rent Rock, Nanjiani's awkwardness is a detriment. Oil and vinegar are supposed to make something delicious when shaken but, in this case, they separate quickly.

The movie works for about five minutes. Stuber opens by introducing L.A. cops Vic (Bautista) and his partner, Sara (Karen Gillan), as they prepare for a high-profile bust at the Staples Center. The banter between these two is easygoing and genuine (owing, one supposes, to their previous collaborations on the Guardians of the Galaxy movies) but it's cut short when Sara is fatally shot about ten minutes into the film. Her killer, the physics-defying Teijo (Iko Uwais), gets away. Cue the revenge subplot that sees an obsessed Vic devoting his life to tracking down his partner's killer. With his eyesight blurred by lasik and his car crashed in a ditch, Vic has no choice but to call an uber. The last thing his driver, Stu (Nanjiani), expects is to be "recruited" as Vic's partner. But whatever it takes for a five-star rating.

Since I laughed a few times, I can't completely eviscerate the movie even though on some level I feel it deserves it. Still, four or five successful jokes aren't sufficient recompense for 90 minutes of boredom. The action sequences don't even provide a brief break from the monotony. They are poorly conceived and choreographed, often feeling like outtakes rather than the real thing. When it comes to satirizing the oh-so-ripe target of ridesharing, Stuber pulls its punches. (I'm assuming Uber paid a licensing fee since Lyft isn't mentioned, although I'm not sure why any company would want this brand of exposure.)

I can think of a lot of clever ways to employ an Uber ride in a motion picture but none of them are put to use by Clancy's screenplay and Michael Dowse's direction. (A Blumhouse-style psychological thriller? An update of Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth?) This least-common-denominator movie relies on recycled plot points and bad clichés to create a trip that's memorable only for its destination: the chance to escape through the theater exit.

© 2019 James Berardinelli