“Stuber” is a familiar product — a violent action comedy about a civilian who gets dragged into police work — with a twist that’s more depressing than was probably intended. Kumail Nanjiani plays the nicknamed title character, beta-male Uber driver Stu, who is commandeered by Dave Bautista’s alpha-male cop Vic Manning, who just had Lasik surgery and needs someone to drive him around in pursuit of a longtime drug-lord foe. Vic can’t call for police backup for the usual reasons (there are dirty cops among them, he doesn’t know whom he can trust, yada yada), but the reason Stu lets himself be commandeered is that Vic has threatened him with a 1-star review if he abandons him, which would bring Stu’s average down below 4.0 and cost him the job. Oh, and it’s his second job. He also works days at a sporting goods store.
This terribly dispiriting scenario, the grim logical end of the modern “gig economy,” is just part of why “Stuber” is only moderately successful. The rest is clunky writing (by one Tripper Clancy). While the cop character is pretty consistently gruff, deadpan, and unpersuadable — which is to say, he behaves the way Dave Bautista always behaves in movies (probably in real life, too, I don’t know) — Stu is inconsistent except for being generally whiny. He’s dense and clueless one minute, smart and woke the next, depending on the requirements of the gag. Nanjiani is better at the self-aware stuff than the simpering idiot stuff, and he has a few good lines. But most of the film’s sporadic laughs are situational, the result of a Mr. Magoo cop and a hysterical civilian stumbling around together taking out bad guys. Director Michael Dowse (“Goon”) doesn’t mine any comedy that isn’t explicitly spelled out in the script.
The side stories are predictable and unengaging. Vic’s grown-up daughter (Natalie Morales) has an art show that Vic is going to miss because he forgot about it (and can’t see anyway because he scheduled his Lasik surgery for the same day). Stu is trying to work up the courage to tell his female friend (Betty Gilpin) that he’s in love with her. Vic and Stu help each other with their respective problems, but not in interesting or funny ways. This will play on cable a lot next year, when people will catch parts of it and say, “Hey, this movie isn’t so bad. I wonder why it tanked in theaters?” And the answer is that it’s not very good but you expect less when you’re channel-surfing than you do when you’re leaving the house and paying cinema prices.
One final point that seems minor but speaks to the film’s overall clumsiness. Early on, it’s mentioned that it’s the hottest day in Los Angeles since 1911. That’d be around 110 degrees. But almost everyone in the movie is wearing long pants, some even in light jackets. The oppressive, record-breaking heat never factors into the story or influences anyone’s actions. SO WHY BRING IT UP? (By the way, a realistic movie set on the hottest day in L.A. history would be about people sitting in the A/C all day talking about how hot it is.)
C+ (1 hr., 33 min.; )