Directed by Michael Dowse.
Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Iko Uwais, Natalie Morales, Karen Gillan, Jimmy Tatro, Amin Joseph, Betty Gilpin, Joshua Mikel, Julia Vasi, and Mira Sorvino.
A detective recruits his Uber driver into an unexpected night of adventure.
The weirdo step-son of Collateral and Planes, Trains and Automobiles nobody asked for has arrived, and try though Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista might to elevate a glorified product placement exercise into a gonzo comedy, the material they’re working with is just too damn tepid to suffice.
Stu (Nanjiani) is a downtrodden Uber driver desperately trying to save enough money working the side-gig to better his life, but his very existence is put at risk when he crosses paths with brash LAPD detective Vic Manning (Bautista). Having had eye surgery performed earlier in the day but chasing a lead that might bring down a notorious drug kingpin, Vic forces Stu to drive him around as he follows breadcrumbs, while an uneasy rapport grows between the two.
It’s easy to appreciate how this set-up could be ripe for both ribald laughs and frenetic thrills, but the temptation to take the broad path is clearly too much for both Tripper Clancy’s script and director Michael Dowse (Goon). From first minute to last, Stuber forces its odd couple stars into a snoozily generic narrative framework, dishing up an extremely familiar crime caper plot alongside all the usual cliched family and romantic melodrama.
The set-up itself is plenty contrived, but with enough self-awareness and a compelling follow-through, it wouldn’t have been an issue. Nevertheless, given the rather unfussed nature of the writing and the utterly workmanlike direction on offer, it’s tough not to view the entire enterprise as undercooked. Every single time, this movie takes the most obvious, trite route possible, ensuring there’s virtually nothing surprising story-wise, while in terms of the humour, most set-ups and pay-offs are extremely predictable.
Occasionally hilarious one-liners do abound, at least, namely some vaguely clever jokes lampooning both racial and gendered stereotypes – and a show-stealing sight gag involving an electric car. But for the most part the film is content to cruise on the likeability of its stars, without ever daring to go anywhere higher.
The action beats have promise, but Dowse’s ramshackle helming relies on irritating shaky cam and spasmodic editing, ensuring that two bookending set-pieces featuring The Raid‘s Iko Uwais prove shockingly uninvolving. Mercifully the focus is generally more on laughs and banter than shootouts, but sadly it’s not only Nanjiani and Bautista who get the short end of the written stick here; the distinguished ensemble cast is largely given nothing to do.
This is especially true of Stuber‘s female contingent, who are either thoroughly underserved or shoehorned into terrible roles throughout. As Vic’s former partner, Karen Gillan sticks around for a cup of coffee at most, while Mira Sorvino gets a basically throwaway role as Vic’s boss, and worst of all, GLOW‘s Betty Gilpin is saddled with Stu’s love interest Becca, a stereotypically boozy crone and a role so far beneath Gilpin it hurts.
That Stu considers going to a drunk Becca’s house to have sex with her, with him making no reference to her heavily inebriated state, plays as rather iffy. As a whole, this aspect of the film feels painfully retro, as though it wanted to be a Lethal Weapon throwback without forgetting to bring the gender politics forward three decades. There is a cursory attempt made to question Vic’s toxic, “traditional” sense of masculinity, but it never feels fully-formed either as message or satire.
There is one aspect of this movie truly bizarre in its transgressiveness, however, and that’s the elephant in the room that is Uber. Large portions of the film play as though the entire production was funded by the ride-sharing giant, with characters literally outlining the various service options available and even tipping the hat to their delivery service UberEats at one point. But at the same time, the film pulls no punches with making it clear that Uber drivers are subject to intense operational restrictions from the company, where anything below a great star rating will result in termination.
There is some slight sugar-coating, however, as in the film Stu needs to maintain a 4.0 rating in order to keep working for them, while the consensus figure in reality (as Uber doesn’t publish a concrete number) is around 4.6. Nevertheless, it’s far from a flattering portrayal of the company, and the result is one of the most bizarrely misjudged front-and-center product placements in recent cinematic history.
All these factors considered, Stuber is weird enough to avoid feeling too soulless or bland, but at the same time it aims low and only barely skims its targets half the time. But the most disappointing thing of all? That adorable dog from the posters is barely in the damn film.
Nanjiani and Bautista are clearly having a blast, but their easy chemistry is at the mercy of a depressingly formulaic buddy-actioner script. It’s watchable, for sure, but is that really good enough with this much talent involved?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.