Directed by Michael Dowse.
Starring Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Karen Gillan, Betty Gilpin, Iko Uwais, Mira Sorvino and Natalie Morales.
A detective recruits his Uber driver into an unexpected night of adventure.
It is not a great sign where the director and stars of your film have to repeat that the print we are about to see is a work in progress over and over, as it to blame all of the film’s issues on the fact that they still have some post-production and editing to finish. Unfortunately, Stuber doesn’t feel like an unfinished film, it is just plain bad.
Action-comedies usually fail because they put the comedy front and centre and leave the action as an afterthought, but Michael Dowse’s Stuber is the rare exception. The action is not good, it is great. We start with an extended fight scene in a hotel where tough-as-nails, old-school, macho cop Vic (Dave Baustista) and his unnamed female partner (played by Karen Gillan) pursue Teijo, an Interpol-wanted criminal (played by The Raid’s Iko Uwais). The action feels grounded and dangerous, each punch feeling like you are being hit in the face with a brick, the choreography is impressive and fluid. But the fight stops after Uwais – who does impressive stunt work jumping down a few stories in a hotel building – shoots and kills Bautista’s partner. He then spends the next two years obsessing over catching Teijo and get revenge for his partner.
Stuber faulters as soon as this shooting happens. It is one thing to have an actress like Karen Gillian in your movie for only 5 minutes, but to go ahead and fridge her just to use her as motivation for her male partner? Is not like stopping an international criminal who sells drugs to children isn’t already enough motivation, is it?
On the other side of the thin blue line we meet Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a clerk at a sporting goods store who also works as an Uber driver to support his friend-he’s-in-love-with (Betty Gilpin) in her efforts to open a cycling gym. One day Vic gets word that Teijo is back in town for a drop off, just after his Lasik surgery leaves Vic vision-impaired, so he gets in Stu’s Uber – you guessed it, the film is titled after the combination of Stu and Uber, a name Stu gets teased with at work – and together they’ll embark on a dangerous journey where they’ll either bond or die a horrible death.
There is no denying that Bautista and Nanjiani have great chemistry together (please let them host some award show next year!), and Bautista has great deadpan timing and physicality to counteract Nanjiani’s non-stop parade of one-liners, specially a scene in which Stu tortures a drug dealer by tweeting a list of the best Ryan Gosling movies.
Sadly, this is not enough to make up for Tipper Clancy’s horrendous script. For one, Stuber never really justifies why Vic takes an Uber the whole day instead of a Taxi, as he doesn’t understand how Uber works and keeps telling Stu to “keep the meter running”, and aside from a running gag about Stu having a terrible driver rating and being desperate for a 5-star rating, there is absolutely no reason for the two of them to stay together for as long as they do. It is hard not to see this movie and think it is little more than product placement. This is Collateral, but with more jokes that get in the way of the action, and none of the smart writing. Add in more than a couple racially insensitive jokes and this film looks like it should have stayed in the 80s.
There are also sub-plots that come out of nowhere, including the introduction of a mole a third of the way into the film, with absolutely no build-up or pay-off, and the comedy is constantly getting in the way of any kind of emotion or gravitas. We are supposed to believe Stu is scared out of his mind and wants nothing more than leave Vic stranded, but he keeps cracking jokes when drug dealers have guns to his head without an ounce of stress or fear on him.
Stuber tries to be a throwback to the good old days of action-comedies, but the genres never quite fit in, resulting in a divided experience that feels like two entirely different movies. For a story about an Uber driver desperately trying to get 5 stars, it is impossible to give this film anything higher than 2 stars.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★