From the moment they meet, Stu the Uber driver in “Stuber” is a smart-ass.
Doesn’t matter that he’s a Pakistani-American pushover driving a Nissan Leaf in the evenings for extra cash, and his new passenger is a roided-up, tattoo covered LA cop. Stu, played by “Big Sick” comic Kumail Nanjiani, instantly wises off.
“Lemme guess, you want to me to take you to aaaaaall the Sarah Connors in town!”
Stu has little compassion for the Lasik surgery glasses Vic (Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) has to wear.
“You going to a racketball game later?”
Nanjiani just kills when he’s grabbing stereotypes (meek, moral South Asians, overly-polite drivers) and shaking them to their senses. But the wisecracks thin out and grate when the violence takes center stage. And “Stuber” is stupidly violent.
Canadian director Michael Dowse, who did the hockey comedy “Goon” and the romance “What If,” kind of lost me sometime after the torture, maybe in the middle of the insane first act shoot-out in a critters-in-cages crowded veterinary clinic.
We’ve seen versions of this hapless civilian tied to an ultra-violent cop before, with Bruce or The Rock or DeNiro as the tough guy. And the chemistry between this mismatched couple isn’t awful.
Bautista can be funny, but mainly he’s here for the mayhem — which he delivers, first scene to last. And Najianni makes a memorable ninny, bullied by his sporting goods store boss, forever in “the friend z)one” with his college crush (Betty Gilpin of “Glow” and the recent “A Dog’s Journey”), lured into business ventures just to be near her and still not listening to advice from “Douche Lundgren,” the Uber client who hires/”kidnaps” him for an evening-long pursuit of a murderous martial-artist/drug dealer (Iko Uwais).
“You know, I really don’t remember signing up for this TED talk!”
“Stuber” has one running debate, about “manhood,” with the sensitive male getting unwanted “Man Up” lessons from Mr. Raging Testosterone, and the brutish cop earning quasi-feminine lectures on being a better father to his artist-daughter (Natalie Morales).
The film makes its obligatory visit to a strip club, and utterly upends that #MeToo moment in most action movies. “Full frontal” was never sillier in a shoot-em-up.
But aside from that,this is strictly cut-and-paste formula filmmaking, from the off-the-books “Doc” (Scott Lawrence) who can patch up people, even though he’s a veterinarian, to the heroin dealer house in the barrio that Vic the half-blind cop cracks up to get his next lead.
Bautista makes what he can of a character who squints through his anger-management issues, and Nanjiani can be a funny foil, probably riffing lines like “That’s a hard ‘no'” at every suggestion he buy into this cop/customer’s ethos and mission.
But how funny can that fifth or 25th exploding head shot be? The shooting, the gun shopping, the body count don’t just pile up. They slow the picture down and break the flow of what’s funny.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to filmmakers with the guts to gut Uber, and the wit to make a “silent but deadly” electric car a plot device.
If only they’d been quicker to the punch line, and a lot less quick to pull the trigger.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Natalie Morales, Karen Gillan and Betty Gilpin
Credits: Directed by Michael Dowse, script by Tripper Clancy. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:33