One is a hot-tempered cop who recklessly puts others in harm’s way for the sake of a personal vendetta. The other is a sarcastic, motormouthed rideshare driver stuck in the friend zone with the woman of his dreams.
Individually, neither of the lead characters in Stuber are guys you’d want to spend much time with. Yet together, their bickering combination of barbs and brawn give this raunchy action-comedy an endearing throwback vibe. Unfortunately, the formulaic script cannot match their efforts.
The story is set in Los Angeles, where Vic (Dave Bautista) is still mourning the death of his partner (Karen Gillan) at the hands of a ruthless drug trafficker (Iko Uwais). He gets a tip right after he’s had Lasik surgery, so his vision is impaired to the point where his artist daughter (Natalie Morales) shows him how to use the Uber app on his phone.
That links Vic with Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), the neurotic driver of an electric car who’s obsessed with his driver rating and can’t tell his best friend (Betty Gilpin) that he loves her. Anyway, a promising date night goes awry when Stu gets roped into Vic’s death-defying quest for vengeance, and finds his inner tough guy in the process.
Amid the mayhem around them, Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Nanjiani (The Big Sick), both stars on the rise, develop an appealing odd-couple chemistry. Vic’s macho Mr. Magoo routine grows tiresome after a while, although the actor has the charisma and comic timing to pull it off. Nanjiani consistently gets the best lines, many of which feel improvised.
Canadian director Michael Dowse (Goon) stages some elaborate ultraviolent fight scenes, some of which work better than others. While an opening confrontation in a hotel penthouse is chaotic, a subsequent shootout in an animal hospital — amusingly set to The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” — hits the mark.
However, the screenplay struggles to integrate its comedy and action components. Plus, the egregious lack of realistic grounding or common sense among its two protagonists diminishes the incentive for a rooting interest in whether Vic captures the perp, Stu gets the girl, or the car survives the night.
Attempting to put a fresh spin on familiar genre elements for the social-media age, the result might please corporate suits at Uber, although it’s simply not amusing or exciting enough to earn five stars.